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Like a bad houseguest, how to give COVID the heave-ho - (4/28/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Mrs. Gleason was in a dither this afternoon as she entered the pharmacy. "This coronavirus thing has got me so nervous," she said to the pharmacist. "Yesterday, I heard that I do not have to wear a mask. Today, it’s a state mandate. I spend an hour after grocery shopping wiping down all my purchases with Lysol. Then I hear the president say that maybe injecting bleach might save my life. How do I know it’s not in my house?” While the pharmacist was filling her prescription for an extra-strength tranquilizer, he gave her a few pointers. Getting rid of the virus isn’t as easy as getting rid of an unwanted houseguest. For such guests, you can always announce that you got last minute tickets to a 5-hour Wagnerian opera or had to attend the funeral of your cousin’s gerbil. A virus can be trickier. 

First, a virus is not a living organism. Instead, it is a blob of protein wrapped in a shell of fat (think booger). However, when the virus is absorbed by the cells of the eyes, nose, or mouth, it changes their internal machinery. Suddenly, it turns into super villain, which converts each cell into a factory that spits out toxic aggressor and multiplier cells. But humans are smarter than viruses. So, realize that because the virus is not a living organism, you cannot kill it as you would any actual life form. Instead, because it is inherently fragile, it decays on its own, like dried snot deposited under a seventh-grader’s desk. The disintegration time depends on the humidity, temperature, and the material on which it lands.

Know that soap is your friend. Soap easily cuts through the virus’ fat coating, which is why you should wash your hands vigorously. The more robustly you lather up, the more viruses you are stripping of their weaponry, leaving only a sad glob of yuck behind. And, soap is nothing without water. Lukewarm water is best. To melt the fat layer, wash your hands, clothes, and home items in at least 77-degree water.    

Alcohol is another vital liquid when your home is a critical battleground. Alcohol or any combination with alcohol over 65% disintegrates any fat, particularly the virus’ external lipid layer. Listerine® is 65% alcohol. Caution: Do not waste your good Grey Goose™ or Tito’s Handmade® Vodka on the virus. The alcohol content is too low (40%). Save your Absolut® for the Bloody Mary you’ll need after a rough day of social distancing. If you do not inject it, as suggested by the president, bleach is useful. In fact, a mixture of one part bleach with five parts of water will short sheet any fat layer you have to tackle. 

The crucial question for anyone who has time to get very paranoid: How long does the virus live on various surfaces that would find in any home? The National Institutes of Health states that COVID-19 can survive “in the air for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel." But don’t hold them to exact times. Take note compulsive cleaners: If you shake a feather duster, the virus floats in the air for up to 3 hours and can lodge in your nose. Viruses love the cold and they remain very stable in chilly outdoor air, and even air-conditioned cars and houses. They also are keen on moisture to stay functional, and they like to lurk in the dark. Therefore, turn on the lights and the dehumidifier to make them degrade faster.

After hearing the pharmacist’s suggestions, Mrs. Gleason felt more on track. Following her intensely focused house cleaning, she will pour herself a giant cocktail to soothe her nerves during this maddening plague. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com.


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