Coronavirus: Be careful with these surfaces

Wednesday March 18 2020

Supermarket staff disinfects a trolley in Belgium on March 18, 2020. PHOTO | JOHN THYS | AFP


Health experts and scientists say coronavirus can be transmitted through two main ways: respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces.

A new research shows that the novel coronavirus can survive on some surfaces for days or in the air for several hours.

Scientists found that the virus that causes Covid-19 had similar levels of viability outside the body to its predecessor that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

The new coronavirus was detectable for up to four hours on copper and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel and for up to 24 hours on cardboard.

The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and was carried out by scientists from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), University of California, Los Angeles and Princeton.

Here is a list of gadgets, surfaces, items and equipment that if contaminatedyou are likely to pick the virus from.

  • Cash

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently warned that banknotes may become a public health risk because of the rate at which they change hands, picking up all manner of bacteria and viruses along the way.

Consequently, the Health ministry has advised Kenyans to consider using mobile money.

Mobile money service providers, including Safaricom, have waived transaction fees for cash transfer of Sh1,000 and less for the next three months.

Before the move, it cost between Ksh11 and Ksh15 to transfer cash below Ksh1,000 ($10) on the M-Pesa platform, and up to Ksh28 to withdraw from an M-Pesa agent.

  • Shopping carts

It is almost impossible to walk through supermarkets without touching a trolley or a basket handle.

These surfaces are touched by staff and customers all day and can potentially hold viruses for several hours.

According to Juan Leon, an environmental health scientist at Emory University, past studies show common household disinfectants, including soap or a diluted bleach solution, can deactivate coronaviruses on indoor surfaces.

“Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses with a protective fat layer. Disinfectants tear apart that fat layer, which makes coronaviruses fairly wimpy compared to noroviruses and other common viruses that have a more robust protein shell,” Leon says.

Walls, sinks and windows

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that coronavirus was found all over the hospital rooms of three Covid-19 patients in Singapore.

The virus was found on a host of surfaces— including bed rails, door handles, chairs, light switches, windows, sinks, stethoscopes, air fans and toilets, according to a team led by Sean Wei Xiang Ong of the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

All of those surfaces wound up virus-free following routine cleaning with a widely used chlorinated sanitiser, “suggesting that coronavirus is no morehearty than the flu or noroviruses,” said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, in Rochester.

  • Remote controls

Television and radio remote controls can be hotspots for coronavirus, especially if you have a large family.

It is advisable to sanitise and disinfect them from time to time, especially if they are accessible to young children.

  • Door knobs and handles

Handles and knobs on shared toilets in offices can be a good breeding ground for the virus.

If not disinfected, they present a unique challenge to washroom users after washing hands and sanitizing them.

These surfaces should thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to eliminate the virus.

  • Staircase rails

Residential buildings and offices are often fitted with handrails to provide support when going up the stairs.

However, given the high number of people who use them, they are likely to get the virus from contaminated hands.

To keep the germs at bay, you have two options: avoid touching the rails or ensure they are cleaned and disinfected.

  • Phones

A personal smartphone is less of a problem.

However, if you share an office phone, you should consider sanitising your hands often.

The mouthpieces of office phones can also be virus hotspots. You want to consider using your mobile more than sharing a desk phone.

  • Lift buttons

Elevator buttons in offices, apartments and public areas can be transmission surfaces for Covid-19 virus given the high number of people who use them.

It is advisable to sanitise and disinfect them from time to time.

Use a pen to push buttons instead of your fingers. Professor Wang Lin Fa, from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore suggests using cotton bud, toothpick or pen to push lift buttons, which harbour viruses, rather than a finger.

You may also consider using staircases without touching hand rails.

  • ATMs and ticket machines

ATM machines and ticket machines in banks and train stations can also spread the virus because they are used by many people.

Just like cash money, avoid using the ATM and turn to mobile transaction.

The operators of these machines should also sanitise and disinfect them regularly.

  • Keyboards

Shared keyboards in a cyber of office can expose you to the virus as different people come into contact with them every day.

Consider using a personal computer or smart phone to access internet services.

Internet café operators should also sanitise and disinfect their machines to ensure public safety.

In conclusion, handwashing and disinfection remains an important component in the fight against coronavirus.

Experts say friction is the key to scrubbing off any viruses on your hands in case you come into contact with surfaces.

Proper hand-washing involves rubbing the palms together, rubbing the backs of the hands, interlocking fingers both backwards and forwards, scrubbing the thumbs and washing the fingertips.