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How effective is spraying disinfectant to stop the spread of coronavirus?

Disinfectants are the chemical substances that are used to destroy harmful microorganisms. The destruction of microbes or other pathogens by the use of disinfectants is known as disinfection. Disinfectants can be used distinctly or in combination with other disinfectants. Disinfectants generally perform their antimicrobial activity in three ways: coagulation, cross-linking, or clumping. These three processes disturb the existing structure and functions of the microbe. Disinfectants disintegrate the proteins, which is the building block of the microbe or virus. Alcohol in the disinfectants breaks the outer coating of the virus. Mists of dilute bleach are used for air disinfection.

A disinfectant, however, does not kill all microorganisms like bacterial endospores. The registration of a disinfectant to be used against a particular bacteria or pathogen requires prior approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EPA under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Disinfection plays a very crucial role in healthcare centers. The environmental surfaces of hospitals and medical equipment used by health workers are stuck with millions of microbes. Disinfectants deactivate these microbes and viruses, thereby, reducing their spread considerably. Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs) are halted by the use of disinfection and sterilization. In all healthcare environments, disinfection is carried either by wet-pasteurization or treating with liquid chemicals. Usually, the chemicals include- alcohol, chlorine, proxygene compounds, or phenol, etc.

After the discovery of Novel Coronavirus SARS CoV-2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released "Emerging Viral Pathogen Guidance for Antimicrobial Pesticides" on 29 Jan 2020. It contains a list of chemicals and products that can be used as disinfectants to prevent the spread of deadly coronavirus. The virus carries the potential to cause a range of illnesses, from common flu to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The fourteen-day long incubation period of the virus makes it difficult to identify the infected person. The symptoms are not visible among a lot of infected persons in the initial days, and unintentionally, they may act as its transmitter. The difficulty in the detection of the Novel Coronavirus has made the demand for disinfection and sanitation inevitable.

Andrew Wheeler, the director of EPA, considers disinfecting as important as handwashing for reducing the hasty transmission of coronavirus. EPA has recommended the mixture of sodium hypochlorite and phenol as the most effective disinfectant in the list. The Centre for Disease Control and Protection has already issued the guidelines in which it has recommended to clean and disinfect the areas where a person either with confirmed Corona case lived, or the person under investigation lives. The move of expansive disinfection of public places has been started because the virus sticks to the surfaces touched by the infected person. And, if a healthy person touched that particular surface accidentally, the virus will get onto them. Drones and aircraft are being used for disinfecting the contaminated places. Repeated decontamination will certainly help to combat the virus.

Is spraying disinfectant an effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus?
Is spraying disinfectant an effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus?

One of the typical traits of the novel coronavirus, which eclipses the drive to go for air disinfection, is its travel medium- Coronavirus does not travel through the air. It rests on the surfaces. The Novel Coronavirus spreads through direct contact with an infected person or contact with the droplets generated by the infected person, when he coughs or sneezes or through his saliva. Although bleach (used as a disinfectant) can break proteins, it has its limitations. Bleach breaks down under the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Sometimes, people are allergic to disinfectants. The toxic chemicals in the disinfectants can cause cancer, respiratory ailments, and reproductive complexities. It irritates the mucous membrane. Repeated spraying of disinfectants in the open environment also creates environmental pollution.

Further, impairment in the drive is added by improper handling of disinfectants. The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) says only 16% of people properly disinfect their home environment. ACI has itself issued guidelines regarding proper disinfection in which it recommends pre-cleaning of surfaces before going for disinfection and letting the surface, sprayed by the disinfectant, to be dried by the air.

Disinfectants are harmful to plants and animals too. They kill good bacteria in the soil. The small organisms responsible for pollination and fertilization in plants will reach the climax of their life by continuous disinfection. The useful fungus will also be at the mercy of the chemicals. The water bodies will get deteriorated. Indeed, we are tying up to pay a far greater price by going for mass disinfection. Proper care is required while dealing with disinfectants. Proper care is required while dealing with disinfectants.

Like other Coronaviruses, the survival period of Novel Coronaviruses on surfaces is not accurately known. It can last from a few hours to several days. Disinfection, sterilization, fumigation, and other sanitary approaches can yield results only when we will go for our hygiene. According to several studies, the disinfectants that are commonly available in our homes like soaps, detergents, or solution of any diluted bleach can make the coronavirus inactive.

Health care workers are at terrible risk, as they come into contact with the sick people frequently. They cannot curtail their work and sit at home. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a sanitation drive in hospitals. However, we should give one thought before going for mass disinfection. The containment of the novel Coronavirus is our motto today, but not at the cost of our future. Public health experts envisage composite outcomes of large-scale disinfection. It may thus be concluded that we should follow safer approaches than disinfecting public areas. One of the better options available to us is to practice hand and respiratory hygiene, committing to stay away from the fatal virus, which is not feasible without public support. It would be intelligent to adopt frequent handwashing and hand-cleaning to save ourselves and the entire humanity. In this way only we can play our part properly and responsibly.


Image Credits: Getty Images

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