Science in the Summer - A Lesson on Viruses

With so much summer disruption, finding pleasure at home can be difficult. Some of us are out and about, some of us are still distancing ourselves from normal activities. These risk assessments are made individually and are entirely appropriate. What is important is basing our assessments on the science of fact. Not opinion, but fact.

While some are thinking, “Yay, back to normal,” we here at EcohealthKC hope you are thinking, “Hmm, what’s next?” Viruses follow predictable patterns. Chickenpox is a winter or spring disease. The common cold propagates with favorable conditions all year long. Those are patterns we anticipate. This novel virus is not something we can predict based on its past history, so don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

There is, within the world of viruses, a predictable upswing, downswing, and sometimes waves of infection. Here are some of the facts scientists have learned:

  • Most people contract COVID-19 at home. Businesses are masking and protecting those who enter, and all of us are more careful in the world at large. When people go home, however, they want to kick back and relax. They touch more things, they are less careful. So is the rest of the family. The virus is usually transmitted there.
  • An infected person needs to transmit a loading dose of the virus. That is as few as a thousand viral particles. Think about it this way: You can breathe in a thousand virus particles in a single breath or rubbing of the eye or nose. What if the person in your home tries to be careful, and handwashing reduces the amount of virus shed on surfaces or breathed in the air? You can accumulate that magic thousand particles in small increments and when you reach the load required for infection, boom! You’re sick. Be vigilant with in-home habits.
  • Home surfaces are full of fomite contamination. This takes place when a person coughs on or touches a surface like a faucet handle on a sink. Another person touches those same handles almost immediately, and a transfer is made from one person to the next. It wasn’t a direct contact, but sort of third-party contamination. Learn how to use the word fomite in a conversation!
  • A single cough throws up to 3000 droplets into the air, and they can whoosh out at 50 miles per hour. Whoa! Gravity will cause some to fall to the ground and render them ineffective, but some of those pesky viral particles will make it across the room. A simple sneeze can shoot 30,000 droplets into the air and travel at up to 200 miles per hour! Home is obviously not the place to let down your guard. Sneeze and cough into elbows or tissues.
  • Just how small is the coronavirus? The Orange County Register posted a fun article for comparing the size of the virus to the growth of fingernails…look it up! Devise a way to make this real for the family.
  • The Encyclopedia Britannica offers information on the size of viruses, and it’s hard to imagine something that small causing this degree of devastation, but it does.

Make sure the family knows how long twenty-second handwashing really is... singing the birthday song or counting 1- and up to 20.  Effective handwashing is huge.

Now is the time for building our understanding of how this virus works. A recent histological study by researchers described the actual ways in which the virus attacks the body. This represents the first US virus to invade the epithelial lining of blood vessels, disrupting clotting mechanisms and causing secondary deaths of stroke, heart attack, and more. Much of the controversy about funny numbers has arisen from a lack of knowledge of just how this virus attacks the human body. Did a given patient die of a heart attack? Yes. Was it the coronavirus? Yes. Good to know.

It’s not enough for you to learn all you can about this invisible killer. You must educate your family. You’re in this together, and it takes the cooperation of the whole family to fight off tragedy. We are not through this yet, folks. Study a little science this summer. Dig in. Be vigilant. Be prepared.