News | Published March 23, 2020 | Written by Nirmal Joshi, MD, FACP, system chief medical officer, Mount Nittany Health

COVID-19: Back to basics

As this nasty virus continues to wreak havoc across the globe, the layperson is both frightened and overwhelmed by the rapidly evolving information around them. This information has ranged from factual to mythical. At this difficult time, when no specific treatment is known, it is vitally important to emphasize the basics of the disease and its transmission, as well as what is known about preventing it.  

The virus causing COVID-19 is transmitted via the respiratory tract, the most common entry point being the nose. This may occur by inhaling infected droplets or small, aerosolized particles. Common ways in which such transmission happens is either by direct contact (within a few feet) of someone who has the disease or by touching the nose with your own hands after the hands having touched an infected surface such as a door knob or table top etc. Knowledge of the following basic principles results in understanding common preventive methods.

First, washing hands frequently results in killing the virus. This is best done, when available, by soap and water for 20 seconds or more. When this is not available, the use of hand sanitizers that contain 60 to 95 percent alcohol may be used. Purell, as an example, contains 70 percent Isopropyl alcohol and is an effective hand sanitizer. Key times to consider sanitizing hands include after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing, after using the restroom, before eating or preparing food, after contact with animals or pets, and before and after providing routine care for another person.

Second, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas. These include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, toilets and sinks. Cleaners such as Windex or Pledge help remove germs and therefore lower the amount of germs on the surface. Disinfectants kill such germs including the COVID-19 virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends alcohol solutions that contain at least 70 percent alcohol, or diluted household bleach solution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates these products and you can identify legitimate products by looking for an EPA registration number on them.

Third, social distancing by staying away from group settings and keeping a distance of at least six feet from others; infected droplets typically fall to the ground within this distance. This also avoids direct contact with other individuals.

Several myths can also be dispelled based on the above principles of transmission as well. First, the virus is not spread through the oral mechanism (eating contaminated products); although touching a contaminated product and then touching your nose might result in transmission. Second, disinfectants such as bleach are for inanimate objects, not the human body so please do not use them on the body—they are likely to be harmful. Third, myths abound about actions such as drinking colloidal silver, using garlic, using hair dryer on the face, gargling with chlorine dioxide and the list goes on. Remedies such as these, used after the virus has entered your body do not help and some can be severely harmful. Please do not use them.

Remember to follow credible sources of information from nationally reputed agencies such as the CDC at cdc.gov.

Mount Nittany Health is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of its patients, staff and community. We are prepared for potential infectious disease outbreaks, whether its measles, flu or new viruses like coronavirus as part of our commitment to prevent disease and ensure a healthy community for all. We rigorously follow the guidance from the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health for screening and testing of patients for COVID-19; ensuring all levels of protection for our patients, staff and community.

As the situation continues to evolve, we have taken steps to prepare and protect our community, including limiting visitors in our facilities at Mount Nittany Health, except for special circumstances and rescheduling elective and non-essential services and screenings through April 30. We continue to evaluate and will announce further measures as needed with the focus on our community’s health and wellbeing.

To learn more about how to stay protected and how Mount Nittany Health is preparing and responding to COVID-19, visit mountnittany.org/coronavirus.

Nirmal Joshi, MD, FACP, is chief medical officer for Mount Nittany Health.