DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Why I Cut Back On Hand Washing (But Keep My Mask On)

Has your life changed a lot on Freedom Day this week? No, neither does mine.

Since Monday we can mingle without masks or go into a packed bar, if that’s what grabs you.

When I go to my local grocery store, I still knock in my pockets to see if I have my keys, my wallet, and my face mask.

The only difference is that when I get home, although I wash my hands, I do it less religiously than before and without singing “Happy Birthday To You” twice. I certainly don’t bother wiping my groceries.

That’s not just because I’ve been double vaccinated, but also because it’s becoming increasingly clear that while the risk of picking up the virus from others, especially in a confined space, is high, the risk of picking it up from surfaces seems higher. to be. be very low.

The only difference is that when I come home, although I wash my hands, I do so less religiously than before and without singing ‘Happy Birthday To You’ twice. I certainly don’t bother wiping my groceries

I am certainly not complacent. The UK has some of the highest rates of Covid in the world, and as people pack into nightclubs and bars, the number of infections and hospitalizations is sure to skyrocket.

I would like to be more optimistic, but I fear that Freedom Day will lead to another big wave of Covid.

The vaccines are fantastic, but not foolproof – and because so many people have yet to be fully vaccinated, the rest of us remain at risk.

That said, many things have changed in the past 15 months, including our understanding of how the virus spreads.

At the start of the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised us to avoid face masks, wash our hands and keep surfaces clean.

Now we know that Covid-19 is transmitted almost entirely by getting up close and personal with other people. Wearing masks and keeping your distance provides good protection, while obsessively disinfecting surfaces seems largely a waste of time and money.

One of the reasons WHO has been so concerned about the risks of dirty doorknobs is that laboratory studies have shown that Covid-19 particles can remain on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for days.

It caused a fear that we could pick it up from touching railings and then become infected by rubbing our eyes. In reality, there is very little evidence that this is happening.

In a recent study, researchers from Israel took personal items and furniture from hospital isolation units and rooms in a quarantine hotel.

Although they found Covid particles in more than half of the samples collected in the hospital and 40 percent of those at the quarantine hotel, no matter how they tried, none of the 97 samples they collected were able to infect tissue samples.

In other words, no one seemed alive or dangerous.

Wearing masks and keeping your distance offers good protection, while obsessively disinfecting surfaces seems to be a great waste of time and money.

Wearing masks and keeping your distance offers good protection, while obsessively disinfecting surfaces seems to be a great waste of time and money.

Another study, published last November in the journal Nature, looking at the effectiveness of various interventions to slow the spread of Covid, concluded that canceling indoor gatherings and closing borders made a big difference, while “environmental cleaning and disinfection.” ‘ that didn’t.

And yet another study attempted to rate the risk. During the height of the pandemic in the US, researchers from Tufts University in Massachusetts went to a town called Somerville (population 81,000) and started cleaning up things like the buttons on zebra crossings, door handles in businesses and gas pumps.

About 9 percent of the samples they took tested positive for Covid particles, with banks and liquor stores having the highest percentages.

But based on the amount of virus they discovered, they estimate that the risk of getting infected after touching an infected surface is less than five in 10,000. In other words, not very likely at all. dr. Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University, continues.

He recently wrote an article that began with the bold statement: ‘We do not have a single documented case of Covid-19 transmission from surfaces. Not one.’

He pointed out that getting infected by Covid is a bit like cigarette smoke — you smell it a lot more indoors than outdoors, and we don’t normally try to protect ourselves from cigarette smoke by scrubbing countertops.

‘Shared air is the problem’, he emphasizes, ‘non-shared surfaces’. Which begs the question, why are companies still spending millions of pounds on deep cleaning?

He considers this an example of ‘hygiene theatre’, doing something because it looks good, not because it is effective.

It would certainly be better to spend more money on improving ventilation in buildings (which is effective) and less on watering every visible surface.

With other nasty infectious diseases, such as the norovirus, the vomiting virus, I will continue to wash my hands, but not as often or enthusiastically as a year ago.

The new memory grinder… a zap to the brain

Your brain is a precious thing – the most complex organism in the universe – so why would you want to zap it with electricity?

Well, because research suggests that small electric shocks can speed up your reaction time, improve your memory and even delay the onset of dementia.

The modern form of brain zapping is called transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS) and involves small electrical shocks that stimulate brain cells, with little or no side effects. A few years ago I had my brain tickled like this by researchers at the University of Oxford.

I wore a cap studded with electrodes that would deliver a series of tiny electric shocks, each less than a thousandth of an amp, and started doing a series of reaction time tests, like pressing a button when a pattern of light appeared on a screen. .

Then the cap was activated. I suddenly felt extremely alert, as if I had just consumed an enormous amount of caffeine. When I did the tests again, there was a 10 percent improvement in my reaction times and I also became more accurate.

Since then, there have been a number of trials using a similar approach. Two years ago, a study by Rob Reinhart, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, showed that brain stimulation improves working memory in people over 60 and 70.

dr. Reinhart asked a group of people in their 20s and a group in their 60s and 70s to perform tasks including looking at one picture and then, after a short pause, looking at another. They had to guess whether the second image was the same or slightly different from the original.

As the scientists expected, the group in their 20s fared much better than the older group. Thereafter, the older group received 25 minutes of tDCS. When they repeated the tests, the older group did just as well as the younger ones, and the effect lasted long after the electrodes were removed.

The technology is still in its early stages, but I hope they’ll have perfected it by the time my memory really runs out.

What’s in a name? your job

There is a theory called “nominative determinism” that claims that people are attracted to areas of work that fit their names.

I recently met a dentist named Dr Painlus which made me wonder how often this happens.

A few years ago, a family of doctors (all called Limb) published a study in the Royal College of Surgeons Bulletin where they looked into this.

They found a surprising number of urologists, specialists who treat diseases of the urinary tract, with surnames like Ball and Weedon, while among general surgeons there were plenty of Gores and Butchers.

And a study based on U.S. census data in 2015 found that if you were a man and had a name like Baker, Carpenter, Mason or Porter, you were 15 percent more likely to get that job than you might by chance expect.

Mosley apparently derives from an old English name meaning “mouse scavenger,” so maybe I should have become a pest controller.