Has it only been a month? It feels much longer.
I’ll start by saying that I was already having a hard time this year before our uninvited friend COVID-19 appeared on the scene. Honestly, it has nearly broken me. No, I’m not directly affected, but like I’m sure many people have been, I’ve been worrying, second-guessing, planning, looking for information. And it’s that information that provides the title above.
It turns out that, experts say, washing your hands with soap is highly effective at deactivating the virus. We’ve been told, in detail, the process for washing our hands properly. Wet your hands, add soap, lather and scrub for 20 seconds, rinse thoroughly, and dry thoroughly. It does not matter whether the water is hot or cold.
Easy, right? Well, yes, but… it doesn’t matter whether the water is hot or cold? That surprised me. It surprised quite a few people, it seems. It got me thinking. What practical difference would there be between using hot or cold?
Certainly a difference I have long noticed about washing with hot water is that it is a lot easier to dry your hands afterwards, because the hot water evaporates more readily, so anything you miss with the towel soon vanishes into the air.
So… dry your hands thoroughly. Wouldn’t using hot water enable you to be more thorough in drying your hands? Wouldn’t that be a benefit? Well, that depends.
What is the purpose of drying your hands thoroughly? Most of the information blasts out there simply don’t say. If the reason is to remove remnants of the virus from your hands, then evaporation may not help. When the water evaporates, would the virus material just stay on your hands or re-enter the air in the dreaded droplets?
I finally saw one version of the hand washing process that explained why you need to dry thoroughly. If your hands remain wet, they more easily pick up new virus material. So washing your hands in hot water seems like a good idea, because all that residual moisture will leave your hands into the air, making you less susceptible to picking up new pathogens.
And therein lies the problem. The messaging should say “dry your hands thoroughly because moisture on your hands makes it easier to pick up new virus material.” It then would’ve been a simple jump to “hot water dries them faster so is probably better.”
I work in IT, not health, but this seems like a common issue. In IT it is important to explain why things should be done a certain way or it’s easy to come unstuck when things don’t go to plan. In health, it seems prudent to explain why actions need to be taken to help people understand the effects and fill in any gaps. And also to stop people second guessing the advice.
That concludes this edition of Echoes. The comments are open, but will be moderated for civility. Alternatively you can hit me up on Twitter, where I go by @zkarj.