Saturday, March 14, 2020

Cleaning Surfaces Prevents the Spread of Germs

White-gloved hand washing countertop
Keeping surfaces clean helps to prevent the spread of germs

When someone coughs or sneezes droplets full of germs splatter onto nearby surfaces. Bacteria and viruses also get deposited on surfaces that are touched by hands that have not been properly washed.

Although germs usually live and reproduce inside living organisms, they can survive on external surfaces for significant amounts of time. Most flu viruses can live outside the human body for about 48 hours. The coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS can survive for as long as nine days on metal, glass, or plastic. Nobody knows how long the Covid-19 virus can live on a hard surface, but it is probably at least a week.

Bacteria and viruses are so small they are invisible to the naked eye. If an item may be contaminated, it is important to clean them because they will not appear visibly dirty. Did someone blow their nose, then touch the office microwave keypad without washing their hands? Did anybody cough into their palm, then push open the door to your apartment building? Perhaps someone had taken hold of the stair handrail but had not washed their hands all day. Touching shared objects that have become contaminated is a frequent source of infection.

Luckily, household disinfectants are designed to kill most common types of bacteria and viruses on “high-touch surfaces.” High touch surfaces include (but are not limited to) doorknobs, countertops, tabletops, bathroom sink fixtures, toilets, bedside tables, computers, and keyboards. Of course, be sure to clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool or other body fluids on them.

Disinfectants with 62-71% ethanol (ethyl alcohol), 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) can “efficiently” inactivate most types of coronaviruses within a minute of being applied. Sprays and wipes intended for household use have instructions on their labels for safe and effective cleaning. The labels also include precautions you should take when applying the product, which may include wearing gloves and ensuring good ventilation while using it.

One item you may forget to clean is your cell phone screen. That is likely the surface we touch the most during any given day. Other coronaviruses similar to Covid-19 are known to survive on glass for up to four days. If you touch your phone screen with contaminated hands, then wash your hands thoroughly, and then touch your phone again, you have just recontaminated your hand. You can wipe down the screen with face wipes, baby wipes, or a solution of water and rubbing alcohol half-and-half. Apple offers complete instructions for cleaning iPhones here:

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