‘Think in fives’ to help combat Covid-19 - AIT microbiologist

A midlands-based microbiologist has urged people to “think in fives” to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Dr Andy Fogarty, who lecturers in the Department of Life and Physical Sciences at Athlone Institute of Technology, said that Covid-19 has five possible entry routes to the body: the eyes, nostrils and mouth.

“It cannot penetrate the skin, just the mucous membranes,” he said.

The coronavirus, whose crownlike spikes of glycoproteins give it its name, is incredibly small – approximately 30 million times smaller than the human body.

“Five hundred million Covid-19 viruses would fit on a full stop,” Dr Fogarty said.

Minimalist in design, coronaviruses consist of one piece of genetic code, a protein coat and an outer layer of fat.

This outer coating of fat is what makes hand hygiene so crucial in the fight against Covid-19.

“Just 20 seconds of thorough handwashing can dissolve the fat layer protecting the virus, much like washing-up liquid and a greasy pan,” the Tullamore-based microbiologist said.

While 80% of people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms, approximately 14% will experience severe symptoms and a further 6% will become critically ill.

“The virus is particularly serious for the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions and the immunocompromised,” Dr Fogarty said.

“We need to slow down the spread of transfer so that critical care facilities are available for those who need it.”

While there is limited evidence of asymptomatic transmission, it is possible for someone to shed the virus and spread it before exhibiting symptoms. Therefore, social distancing is vital to reducing the spread.

“Even if a person has no symptoms today, they may have tomorrow, so it is difficult to say when they contracted the virus,” Dr Fogarty said.

“People are aware to avoid someone coughing but forget about touching their face with their fingers – which may have picked up the virus from a surface such as a door handle or tap.”

He recommends that people avoid touching their faces, especially when in an area of higher potential exposure.

“Imagine that your hands have coal dust on them, and you don’t want to get it on your face,” he said.

Children and young adults that contract the virus generally exhibit mild symptoms, but may transfer the virus to older, more vulnerable people.

With that in mind, Dr Fogarty recommends talking to them about the things that they can do to help stop the spread.

Remarking on the work being carried out by medical staff, including GPs, those who work in hospitals, directors of public health, laboratory staff and pharmacists, Dr Fogarty added: “These people are the unsung heroes in the battle against Covid-19.”

Visit www.ait.ie/covid19 for regular, up-to-date information about AIT’s response to coronavirus (Covid-19).

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