Although I’m writing this at a time when COVID-19 is spreading its tentacles around the globe, this advice offers defense against any virus, whether various strains of flu, or simply the common cold.
Let’s have a look at what a virus actually is. A virus has a protein covering with a center core of nucleic acids, either RNA or DNA. They are known as tiny parasites and can stay active on surfaces, sometimes up to days.
What’s the difference between a virus and a bacterium?
To start with there is the difference is in size; viruses are typically much tinier than bacteria. A virus is not a living organism, it needs a living host, for example a human cell to survive. All viruses can cause disease whereas some bacteria are harmless and some even beneficial. Bacteria are considered living organisms that exist in large numbers, even inside the human body. The digestive tract, for example contains millions of bacteria, some of which are necessary for digestion.
It is much easier to protect against or fight infections caused by harmful bacteria. A dose of antibiotics typically cures most infections of this type, whereas antibiotics have no effect whatsoever against viruses.
How can we best protect ourselves from viral infections?
Hygiene habits such as hand-washing and not touching your eyes, nose or face are especially important, and indeed, most of us know this by now. Soap is the best prevention again viruses. Keeping a safe distance from infected people also keep us from being infected.
But there are other things that people may not think about, and this is what I want to address here.
Cell phones – You may come into the house, after a trip to the doctor or the supermarket, and immediately wash and dry your hands, then the phone rings. Do you immediately pick up the phone and swipe to answer the call? If so you may have inadvertently re-infected your hands. Cell phones typically carry more pathogens than the average toilet seat!
You need to disinfect your phone as well as your hands immediately after returning home. This can be done with a weak bleach solution in a spray bottle or by wiping over all phone surfaces with a disinfectant wipe. If you have a very fancy phone case with a pretty diamante surface, I’m sorry, but you need to swap it for an inexpensive plastic case which can easily be cleaned!
Groceries – Cardboard boxes and plastic or glass packaging may harbor viruses. How do you know? Well, you don’t. You can store groceries for 48 hours before use, by which time there shouldn’t be any active pathogens. You can give them a spray with your disinfectant solution, or leave them in the sun for a day. The UV rays can destroy viruses very effectively. Wipe glass bottles with disinfectant solution.
Fresh produce can be washed under running water. If vegetables are to be peeled or cooked, simple washing should be sufficient.
In the home – Keep all kitchen bench surfaces clean by wiping with disinfectant solution before preparing food. Wash dishes in hot soapy water, dry and store. Don’t forget to wash your hands before preparing any food. Other areas in the home which can hold viruses are doorknobs and fridge handles. Inside the car, wipe down the steering wheel, gear shift and handles.
Strengthen your immune system – this is so important, but seldom mentioned. A healthy immune system can protect against all diseases, yes even cancer. So cut out the things that weaken the immune system as much as possible. These include processed foods, sugar, diet sodas and tobacco. You can also boost immunity by taking vitamins D3, C and E.
If you are concerned that you may have had contact with an infected person, have a hot drink as soon as possible. Heat and steam can destroy viruses. Change your clothes if you’ve been in a ‘hot-spot’.
Don’t be a couch potato! It’s awfully hard when you can’t leave the house, but try to build movement into your day. Dance to your favorite music, jump on the treadmill or go for a walk outside if you can. Exercise is vital for our immune systems and for our general health.
Last but not least, try to maintain calm. Stress significantly weakens the immune system. Deep breathing, practicing yoga and monitoring your thoughts can reduce stress.
I hope this helps build confidence that you can do a lot to prevent infection and stay healthy, both now and into the future. Don’t let fear of viruses stop you from living, but stay aware to protect both yourself and your family.