Myths and misconceptions: The do’s and don’ts of keeping Covid-19 at bay

Medical experts answer some frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus

SHEHARYAR ALI April 25, 2020
KARACHI: As the novel coronavirus pandemic rages on, many myths and misconceptions have taken hold of public imagination. Partly due to social media and partly because a lot of what we know about the virus changes on a daily basis, a lot of people are not only clinging on to bad information but actively propagating it.

To clarify just some of the popularly held beliefs about Covid-19, The Express Tribune carried out a public survey for some ‘frequently asked questions’ and placed them before medical experts.

wash your clothes Q. How long does the coronavirus stay on clothes? Can one catch it from hair or can it penetrate the skin?

Among the most common questions about the novel coronavirus was whether it could penetrate skin or hair. According to Karachi University’s Institute of Virology Dr Muhammad Rashid, that at least was entirely impossible. “No, the virus cannot penetrate skin,” he said. “It can only enter your body through the mouth, nose and eyes. If the virus droplet lands on your skin or hair, you are safe unless you touch it with your hands and then touch your face without washing them.”

On questions about clothes, the senior virologist said the virus could stay longer on smoother fabric like silk than on rougher ones like cotton and polyester. “If the virus can remain on porous surfaces for 24 hours, in can stay for 72 hours on hard or shiny surfaces,” he said.

Even so, microbiologist Dr Sadaf Akbar assured there was no need to be extra paranoid and throw away any clothes you wore outside. “Just immediately take a shower and wash your clothes with detergent,” she said. However, she advised people to avoid sitting on any furniture until they had showered and changed their clothes.

CREATIVE: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE Q. Can the virus stay on wallets, purses and handbags? Will my shoes contaminate my home?

With regards to accessories, like wallets, purses and handbags, Dr Rashid advised carrying the minimum amount of items when going outside. “It would be best, in my opinion, if we just carry our debit or credit cards and currency instead of carrying them in wallets or handbags,” he said. “Otherwise, you will have more items to sanitise and have more to stress about.”

Asked whether shoes can carry the virus, the senior virologist confirmed they could. However, he clarified that doesn’t mean they are a common source of infection.

“You can wash your shoes, if they are washable, but bear in mind that touching the soles will bring you into contact with the virus if they carry it,” he said. “I think it would be better to use separate shoes inside and outside the house and to leave the latter outside when you come home. Or, you could minimise contact with the floor by not sitting on it or touching it unnecessarily.”

Q. Is wearing gloves and a mask when going outside dangerous or necessary? Can they be re-used? How should they be disposed?

Regarding questions about the use of gloves, Dr Sadaf said it was dangerous to believe they offer complete protection. “Think about it this way, with or without gloves, you’ll be touching the same surfaces as you would normally,” she said. “If you then happen touch your face, gloves or not, there may be the risk of infection. I would say it’s just better to wash your hands and to avoid touching your face.”

On the topic of masks, Dr Sadaf said that wearing one in public would indeed offer protection from the virus. “But only if you don’t re-use it,” she said. “If you absolutely must re-use it, then you should was them with antiseptic after each use and store them in zip-lock bags,” she advised. “But be warned, using masks multiple times is still not ideal.”

Dr Sadaf also suggested washing masks with antiseptic and putting them in a plastic bag while disposing them so that others are safe from any virus droplets on them as well.

plastic bags Q. Should I wash fruits and vegetables? If so, how? What should I do with plastic bags?

Regarding fruits and vegetables, Dr Sadaf said it was ideal to wash them with baking soda if they were ones that need to be peeled before eating. “However, those that are consumed directly, like grapes or apples, should only be washed with water.”

Dr Aneela Attaur Rahman, the vice chancellor of Larkana’s Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University also urged people not to unnecessarily picking up fruits, vegetables and other items at shops. “In our country, many people have the habit of picking up items, especially fruits and vegetables, while checking for their price. This should be discouraged,” she said.

“If you need to pick items from shops, only pick up ones you are going to purchase. Then wash them once you bring them home,” she added.
She also advised people to use their own shopping bags and to immediately discard bags brought home from the outside to minimise risks of contracting Covid-19

CREATIVE: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE Q. Do Pakistanis really have an immune system strong enough to beat the virus?

“Being an epidemiologist - or a disease detective in layperson terms – I have to say most Pakistanis have a weak immune system, contrary to popular belief,” Dr Aneela said. “There are fears that cases in Pakistan may rise by the mid or the end of May as lot of people may have caught the virus already and be asymptomatic for now. With a weak immune system, many other Pakistanis will be especially at risk,” she clarified.

To mitigate health risks, Dr Aneela suggested engaging in some form of physical activity while maintaining social distancing. “People should do some form of exercise as that helps boost immunity,” she said. “It is also best to have a healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables.”

“One should also try not to stress themselves too much,” Dr Aneela added. “Staying at home will have a huge impact on mental health as is, so its best to keep oneself active and busy.”

keep pets safe Q. How will the coronavirus affect animals, especially household pets?

“This may stress pet owners, but yes, your pets can contract Covid-19 and yes, they can easily transmit it to humans,” said Dr Muhammad Mansoor Qazi, an expert on animals kept in captivity.

“The novel coronavirus drops to the ground after remaining in the air a short amount of time. That means when you take your pets out for a walk, they can come in contact with the virus and contract Covid-19,” he said. “Since the virus is zoonotic, it can pass from animals to humans,” he explained.

“Even if the pet does not get infected, their fur and skin may be contaminated and the virus is known to remain on fur for some time,” he cautioned. “As such, it is best to take pets to a safe, clean location for walks and only for a short amount of time.”

keep pets safe CREATIVE: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE Q. Will the world being in lockdown improve the environment? Does it mean there will be no heatwave in Pakistan this year?

“There is no doubt that lockdowns around the world have had a positive impact on the environment,” said ecologist Dr Rafiul Haq. “Just look at the blue skies which you seldom saw before. Right now, the global carbon footprint has been reduced due to businesses being closed and lifestyles being changed,” he said.

“But for a longer lasting impact, we will have to permanently change the way we live,” Dr Haq explained.

“There are positive signs. The idea of working from home, for instance, has really taken off and it has translated into a reduction in the use of fossil fuels,” he added. “It really would be best businesses stick to the practice for the environment’s sake after the pandemic is over.”

On the topic of heatwaves, however, Dr Haq said it was too soon for any drastic change in climate trends. “There may be less harsh weather, but climate patterns take a long time to change,” he clarified.

“As such, we should not rush to any expectations and introspect on how we can reduce our carbon footprint on both individual and collective levels.”


CREATIVE: Mohsin Alam, Ibrahim Yahya


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