imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

Soap– not alcohol–annihilates coronavirus

Running out of alcohol in the grocery stores, fellas?

Try lambanog!

Lambanóg is a traditional Filipino distilled palm liquor made from coconut or nipa palm sap. It is derived from tubâ (palm sap) that has been aged for at least 48 hours. It is commonly described as “coconut vodka” due to its clear to milky white color and high alcohol content. It is particularly potent, having a typical alcohol content of 80 to 90 proof (40 to 45%) after a single distillation; this may go as high as 166 proof (83%) after the second distillation.

“Lambanog is an alternative disinfectant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Dr. Grace Santiago, Quezon health officer says.

A storeowner also says: “With its 80 to 85-percent alcohol content, the buyers were using it as an effective disinfectant,” he said. “Besides, a bottle of lambanog is much cheaper compared to the 70-percent solution rubbing alcohol.”

Your hands are one of the main routes that viruses make their way from surfaces to your respiratory system, so keeping them clean is one of the most effective things you can do to stop yourself contracting the virus. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water where possible and if you can’t get to a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do the trick.

While the effectiveness of alcohol gels depends on the virus being targeted – which is why some alcohol hand rubs aren’t very effective against norovirus (a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea)– the coronavirus has an envelope structure which alcohol can attack. Hand sanitizers with more than 60 per cent alcohol content are most effective at killing microbes, but don’t try and make your own sanitizer at home.

But hand sanitizers can also protect against disease-causing microbes, especially in situations when soap and water aren’t available. They’re also proven to be effective in reducing the number and type of microbes.

There are two main types of hand sanitizers: alcohol-based and alcohol-free. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain varying amounts and types of alcohol, often between 60% and 95% and usually isopropyl alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or n-propanol. Alcohol is known to be able to kill most germs.

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers contain something called quaternary ammonium compounds (usually benzalkonium chloride) instead of alcohol. These can reduce microbes but are less effective than alcohol.

Not only are alcohol-based hand sanitizers found to be effective at killing many types of bacteria, including MRSA and E coli, they’re also effective against many viruses, including the influenza A virus, rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus, HIV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

But the better way is washing the hands with soap which is way better than applying alcohol on hands.

Alcohol-based disinfectants are also effective, but soap still reigns supreme when beating the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) responsible for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to chemistry professor Palli Thordarson, soap works well on COVID-19 and most viruses because the virus is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer.

“The soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and ‘dies’, or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive,” the professor said.

Thordarson explained that while alcohol-based disinfectants have similar effects, they are not really quite as good as normal soap.

“The antibacterial agents in these products don’t affect the virus structure much at all,” he said.

Soapy water is totally different, Thordarson said, because it “competes” with the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap is effective in dissolving the glue that holds the virus together. It also outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface because soap contains fat-like substances known as amphiphiles structurally similar to the lipids in the virus membrane. Most viruses consist of three key building blocks: RNA, proteins, and lipids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends washing hands with soap and water.

“Hand washing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands,” CDC said.

Thordarson also reminded people to thoroughly rub and soak the hands.

“The skin is quite rough and wrinkly which is why you do need a fair amount of rubbing and soaking to ensure the soap reaches every crook and cranny on the skin surface that could be hiding active viruses.”

The CDC also clarifies that alcohol-based hand sanitizer is recommended as an acceptable alternative to soap and water in hospital and clinic-like settings because healthcare professionals often perform duties in sterile settings and are required to clean their hands constantly throughout day.

So how should we do that, fellas?

To eliminate all traces of the virus on your hands, a quick scrub and a rinse won’t do it. Below is a step-by-step process for effective handwashing.

Step 1: Wet hands with running water

Step 2: Apply enough soap to cover wet hands

Step 3: Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.

Step 4: Rinse thoroughly with running water

Step 5: Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel

How long should we wash our hands?

You should wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds. An easy way to time it is by singing the full happy birthday song, twice. The same goes for hand sanitizer: use a sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and rub it into your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure full coverage.

When should we wash our hands?

In the context of COVID-19 prevention, you should make sure to wash your hands at the following times:

After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; after visiting a public space, including public transportation, markets and places of worship; after touching surfaces outside of the home, including money; before, during and after caring for a sick person and before and after eating.

And to be safer, bring soap and alcohol wherever we go.

It’s better to be safe than sorry!