Simi Pharmacy

Best protection from infection? Soap & Water

At  SIMI PHARMACY we keep a close eye on medical news and the news is: DISEASES EVERYWHERE.

  • A fungus called Candida Auris is sweeping through America; it’s resistant to antibiotics and causes serious complications in people with weakened immune systems.
  • There has been an alarming – and mysterious – hepatitis  outbreak, which is bad enough, but this one is worse because it’s affecting children.
  • Norovirus (better known as stomach flu) ought to be subsiding as the weather warms up, but instead the CDC reports that it’s on the rise.  California is seeing a lot of it.
  • The corona virus is still making people sick.

More germs, new germs, serious germs, germs busting out all over, it’s enough to turn anyone into another Howard Hughes.

Fortunately, one of the best protections against all kinds of infections is also the simplest, easiest, most inexpensive and accessible. Just stay clean.  In particular, keep your hands clean.

The reason why keeping your hands clean protects you from viral diseases is linked to the way viruses are made. 

A virus has three parts: RNA, proteins and lipids. These three mesh together to form the virus molecule. The RNA is the genetic material of the virus. The RNA nests in a structure made of proteins.  The proteins help the virus molecule break into target cells and assist in replication. The lipids form a coat around the virus, both for protection and to assist with its spread and cellular invasion. The weak spot is the lipid layer. Lipid is a biochemist’s name for fat. 

A virus molecule interacts weakly with surfaces unlike itself.  Viruses can’t easily stick to steel, porcelain and some plastics. Ideally a virus would prefer to land on wood, fabric or skin. In fact, skin is perfect.  Proteins and fatty acids in dead cells on the skin surface interact with virus molecules through both hydrogen bonds and the “fat-like” hydrophilic interactions.

Visualize a microscopic sneeze droplet falling on an elevator button: you touch the button, the virus immediately transfers to you.  You touch your face:  Bingo!  The virus goes to work replicating and you are infected.  (Unless your immune system destroys the virus.)  You also become the means by which the virus jumps to other people.

If you get the virus off your hands before touching your face, you’re safe.  But merely rinsing your hands with water won’t do it.  Virus is sticky.  Fortunately, you don’t need any special cleanser.  In fact, one fact that has emerged from the covid pandemic is that frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water reduces the chance of infection.  A lot!  Scrub well with soap and water and that is the end of the virus:  no infection, no transmission.  Soap and water work just as well on bacteria and fungus, too.

Why is soap so effective?  Soap dissolves the fatty “skin” of the virus, so the virus just falls apart.  It can no longer function.

Understanding how soap removes normal dirt takes us very close to understanding how soap busts up a virus molecule, or a cell of bacteria or fungus. Soap contains molecules called amphiphiles.  An amphiphile has a polar end that is attracted to water and a nonpolar end that is repelled by water and attracted to fat. 

When an amphiphile molecule in soap finds a dirty, greasy molecule on the skin, the fat-loving end of the amphiphile hooks on to the greasy structures of the dirt molecule and then the water-loving end of the soap amphiphile lifts the dirt molecule away.

The same thing happens when an amphiphile molecule in soap finds a virus molecule or the fatty component of a bacteria cell or a fungus cell.  You could say that soap “dissolves” the glue that holds the cells of virus, bacteria or fungus together.  

So how long should it take you to wash your hands properly?  A tip from the CDC says sing Happy Birthday twice while you’re scrubbing your hands; by the time you’ve come to the end of the song, you will have reduced molecules of virus/bacteria/fungus by about 90 per cent.  If you would like to get the count down to 99.9 per cent, just keep washing and sing it again. Make sure that the soap gets under the fingernails and into all the little cracks and crevices of the skin where molecules of virus, bacteria or fungus might hide.  It doesn’t matter if you use warm water or cool water; both are good for packing off disease-causing germs.

By the way, we say “soap kills germs” but it’s more accurate to say, “soap removes germs”.  When you’ve got your hands good and clean, take another few seconds to dry them.  Germs stick to wet hands more easily than to dry ones.  Why go out and immediately pick up new germs? 

You might suppose that doctors would be cheering for soaps with special antiseptic, anti-bacterial ingredients.  Well, they’re NOT. If the levels of antiseptic compounds in the soap are not sufficient to kill all the bacteria outright, then the bacteria soon develop resistance to the compounds.  Antiseptic-resistant bacteria mean more trouble down the road.  Anyway, even if you use an anti-bacterial soap, you can still get sniffles, tummy flu, covid and anything else that is caused by viruses rather than bacteria.  The list of ailments caused by viruses is very long and truly blood-curdling.

Alcohol is an ingredient in many hand sanitizers. Alcohol changes the shape of proteins crucial to the survival of bacteria and viruses. Most of the alcohol-based sanitizers are 62 per cent alcohol, with skin conditioners added so that the stuff doesn’t completely dry out the user’s hands. But alcohol doesn’t kill everything: bacterial spores, some protozoa, and certain “nonenveloped” viruses aren’t affected. Plus, soap is still better when it comes to dissolving fat (which means disabling a virus).  Sanitizer scores on portability:  a little bottle of sanitizer is easy to carry and use when you are out and about; it means that hands get cleaned more often, even if they are not soap-and-water clean.

The CDC offers these hand-washing tips:

  • Wash your hands normally, don’t “attack” the skin.
  • Clip your nails regularly so that you can easily keep the area under nails clean and germ-free.
  • Use hand lotion regularly to keep your skin free from small tears and cracks.  The smoother the skin, the fewer places for germs to hide.
  • Don’t rush through a hand-wash: take your time.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly.

Visit SIMI PHARMACY and check out our wide range of soaps and sanitizers … including products for people who are allergic to scented products or specific soap ingredients.

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