Q: I'm an "essential worker", still working despite the lockdown. I've been showering when I get home, and using a bleach/water mixture in the shower too. Will this help?

A: Coronavirus is a weak virus. It is easily killed by soap and water on your body, and regular laundry detergent on your clothes. It cannot penetrate your skin, and in almost every case, it travels via little liquid droplets that do not spread all that far.

It does not readily turn into an aerosol, meaning you won't breathe it in unless you are a doctor or paramedic suctioning out a patient's airway, or performing bag-valve-mask ventilation on a patient who has stopped breathing.

For most people, the way they will be exposed is from an infected person's coughs surrounding their immediate area with a spray of invisible droplets of saliva and mucus.

Advertisement

Hence the benefit of maintaining a 2m distance from people outside your home. Essential workers may not have the opportunity to stay at a distance, but they can try to minimise their time in the infectious zone as much as possible.

Singapore and Taiwan have shown us that healthcare workers can stay uninfected, if they have scrupulously strict attention to hand hygiene. The key thing is not picking up the virus from a surface and unwittingly touching your face. Given that almost all of us touch our faces many dozens of times a day, this is a tall ask.

One way to avoid touching your face is to wear gloves, which provide a physical reminder for you to keep your hands away. The other is to wear a mask when you have to be near a high-risk contact.

Simple surgical masks provide a barrier to droplets landing on your mouth and nose, and perhaps equally as important, they provide a barrier from the biggest risk with any droplet-spread virus: you touching your own face and inoculating yourself with the virus.

Dr. Gary Payinda is an emergency medicine specialist.
Dr. Gary Payinda is an emergency medicine specialist.

As for showering, in this new pandemic era, more employers will likely be asked to provide showers for workers who get dirty in the line of duty. We know families get exposed when mum or dad brings home gastroenteritis from the kindy where they work, or norovirus from the residential facility, or just good ol' grease and chemicals from the auto repair shop.

We need to be sending our workers into their family cars and homes in the same condition as when they arrived: clean and uninfected. Keeping 'dirty' work clothes in a work locker is another thing that we'll likely see more of in the months and years to come.

But while I'm all for showering at work, or at home if that's the only option, bleach is overkill. Soap and water is more than adequate and sufficient to clean your skin. The water should not even be hot; warm or tepid is perfectly fine.

Using bleach solutions, even dilute ones, on your skin is a step in the wrong direction. They dry out your skin, as does water that is too hot, setting you up for micro-breaks, causing dermatitis, and making eczema flare up.

Advertisement

You want to keep your skin healthy, intact, and moisturised. In these times of Covid, soap and water are the best thing going. Save the dilute bleach solutions for hard surfaces, not your skin!

Dr. Gary Payinda is an emergency medicine specialist. His advice aims to educate and inform, and should not be taken as personal medical advice.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website