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Why is hand washing effective against the coronavirus?

About the blog

Águeda García de Durango
Editor-in-Chief of iAgua and Smart Water Magazine. Degree in Environmental Sciences.

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  • Why is hand washing effective against the coronavirus?

Last week, I wrote a post debunking the myths that have been generated around the coronavirus and its relationship to water. Continuing on this subject, today I would like to discuss why hand washing is so effective when it comes to preventing the spread of this virus (and many others). The World Health Organization’s main advice for the public is hand washing.

The particularity of viruses

A virus is a microscopic, acellular infectious agent that can only multiply inside the cells of the organism: animals, fungi, plants and even bacteria and archaea. They can also infect other viruses.

What is the coronavirus?

The Coronaviridae, commonly known as the coronavirus, comprise one of the two subfamilies in the Coronaviridae family. The name comes from the crown-shaped tips on the surface of the virus. The current classification of coronaviruses recognizes 39 species.

The virus causing the coronavirus disease is called SARS-CoV-2: it looks like this:


Why does soap work?

The cleaning properties of soap in the presence of water are due to the structure of the soap molecule: a soap molecule has an end which is fat soluble and another end which is water soluble. When fats are mixed with a soap-water solution, the fat-soluble part of the soap molecule can attract fats, while the water-soluble end of the molecule makes the complex (soap+fat molecules) dissolve in water.

Virus vs. soap

Thus, the fat-soluble part binds to the lipid layer of the virus, destroying its structure.

Image from @pmarsupia Twitter account.

Why is washing our hands so important?

Although the WHO does not tire of insisting on this step, here are again the reasons why we must wash our hands to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Viral particles can survive for a time on surfaces. These pathogens can be picked up by our hands throughout the day, and even if we are not yet infected by just having it on our hands, we tend to touch our face (eyes, nose, mouth) frequently and the virus can transfer into the body through the mucous membranes. We can also transfer it when we come into contact with other people (shaking hands, hugging, kissing, etc.).

Hence, why hand washing is vital.

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