The researchers had it studied the increased risk of contracting coronavirus among healthcare workers in 2020 and wanted to know what may have led to it. In the recent study, they decided to look at behaviors that go against health guidelines – wearing beards, biting nails and picking snozzles.
“It was pretty fun to investigate,” said Jonne J. Sikkens, an internal medicine specialist and clinical epidemiologist at Amsterdam University Medical Center, who led the study. On a more serious note, “it was surprising how it can affect the transmission,” he said.
The results don’t prove that those who stick their fingers in their nostrils are more likely to get the coronavirus, but “we need to be more aware of it in the workplace to avoid doing it,” Sikkens said.
Our noses suck in air and the organisms that float in it, making the nose one of the most important entry points for bacteria and viruses. The dark, moist corners of the nasal cavities are an ideal environment for bacteria such as the coronavirus.
The coronavirus is primarily spread through respiratory droplets and particles that are inhaled. The virus can also land on surfaces or facesand touching the eyes, mouth or nose after touching parts of the face or a surface that has been contaminated increases the risk of introducing it into the body, experts say.
“It makes sense that touching your nose with your hands — because our hands touch so many surfaces — is a way to move infectious agents from one surface to another and from one person to another,” said Stuart Raya professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the study.
However, the mucosa, or mucous membrane, that lines our nasal cavities provides protection. The membrane is sticky so it can trap the pathogens so the immune system can attack them before they start replicating, experts say. When this protective lining is damaged, e.g. by nose picking, it compromises its abilities.
“If you scratch your mucous membrane, the things that are trapped in that mucus gain access to the bloodstream,” Ray said.
One examination found that nose-pickers were significantly more likely than non-nose-pickers to carry staph infection in their nasal passages.
Why we can’t stop touching our sniffers
People touch their faces for many reasons, such as to communicate and to calm themselves. Some of these actions can be involuntary, such as rubbing their foreheads, or learned, such as chewing on their nails, said Zach Sikoraa licensed clinical psychologist with Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group.
During the pandemic, research showed that even medical and dental students touched their faces. One examination showed that a group of medical students touched their faces an average of 23 times per hour—and 44 percent of those touches involved contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.
“People have to pacify,” said Joe Navarroan expert in nonverbal communication and body language, and the author of “What every body says.” “We can’t just tell the brain to calm itself down; we physically have to do it. It begins in the womb with self-touch, with thumb-sucking. And as we grow up, we touch our noses a lot.”
The trigeminal, or fifth, cranial nerve carries sensory signals from the face, including the jaw, eyelids, and nose, to the brainstem, allowing people to feel touch, temperature, and pain. Stimulating the nerve can help relieve itself, Navarro said.
“A lot of people who are under stress will bite their lip, they’ll close their eyes really tight, or they’ll grab their nose — especially the tip of their nose — and touch it,” he said. .
To slow the spread of the disease, medical experts suggest that people try to keep their hands away from their faces. However, habits can be hard to break, and some recommend enlisting family members and close friends to discreetly bring attention to it.
Try replacing face-touching behaviors with less risky behaviors—massage the back of your neck, rub your hands together, or bring a trinket like a small rock or key to fiddle with.
Or implement barriers such as gloves or masks to discourage face touching.
“If I wear a mask, I won’t be able to pick my nose or bite my nails, which is my problem,” said Scott C. Roberts, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine. “But everyone has to find what works for them.”
For those who can’t help but touch their faces, experts advise taking precautions to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting disease. Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer to keep them clean, especially during cold and flu season.
Difficult to separate behavior
The study does not definitively show that nose picking increases the risk of being infected with the coronavirus. With such studies, experts say, it is difficult to separate behavior. For example, it is not known whether those who refused to pick their noses and remained healthier were generally more cautious — more likely to wear masks, wash their hands and distance themselves from others.
“It brings up an interesting idea, but I’m not sure we can definitively say that this is such an important risk factor for covid takeover,” said Jorge Salinasa hospital epidemiologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study.
The researchers also looked at other potential risk factors. About 33 percent of respondents reported biting their nails, and 31 percent of men reported having beards that can interfere with proper mesh fit. There was no significant correlation between these factors and the incidence of covid, the researchers said.
On the other hand, wearing glasses may have a small protective effect, but it is less robust, said Ayesha Lavellstudy co-author and internal medicine resident at Amsterdam University Medical Center.
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