“Want to improve your chance of staying healthy? Stop touching your face” wrote Tara Parker-Pope in a New York Times article on March 2nd, 2020.
It would pass as a simple protocol but it is one of the hardest things to comply with. Here is a funny incident I saw on international television. Sara Cody, the public health director for Santa Clara County, California was publicly reading out what people need to do to be safe from being infected with covid-19. When she got to the part of not touching your face, she licked a finger to enable her flip a page of the documents she was reading from. Everyone laughed. She laughed too but was a bit embarrassed.
“Humans touch their eyes, nose or mouth about 200 times a day” said Dr. Mark Gendreau, at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals in Beverly, Mass., USA.
Why are health officials saying we should not touch our faces not just in this period of covid-19 but at all times?
According to Dr Mark, “eighty percent of all infections are transmitted by your hands: You touch a surface that’s contaminated with a virus and then introduce it into your body by touching your face.”
The eyes, mouth and nose are made up of mucous membranes which are a comfortable gateways for viruses and bacteria to invade our bodies. Even doctors who tell us not to touch our faces often touch their faces like everyone else.
“Everybody touches their face, and it’s a difficult habit to break,” said Dr Nancy C. Elder, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland who has studied face touching among doctors and clinic staff members.
In an article on the issue by Shafaq Zia in Stat magazine, Professor Wendy Wood of University of Southern California said,
“Touching your face is an act that most people perform without thinking. Whether it is something intrinsic to our species or a learned behavior, we continue to repeat it even if we intend to or not,”
According to Wood, “face touching is a behavior that is triggered for a number of reasons. While some people do it to express their emotions, others touch their face in a discussion to make a point. Over time, they form a habit that continues to get repeated unless it is consciously broken.”
Experts say one way to break the cycle is to simply make it more difficult to touch your face. “If people are to wear gloves and glasses, they are less likely to touch their face,” said Wood.
One factor that these experts didn’t talk about is that the face itches a lot. At least my face does. That is one reason many people can’t keep their hands off their faces. While writing this piece and concious as I am about the problem, I touched my face several times as a result of itches.
To reduce the incidence of touching our faces with dirty hands we are being advised to wash our hands.
According to the article by Zia mentioned earlier,
“A study published late last year on hand hygiene and the global spread of disease through air transportation found that if people wash their hands while at the airport, the spread of a pandemic could be curbed by up to 69 percent. The same research group previously found only an estimated 20 percent of people have clean hands while at airports.”
The question is how often can you wash your hands in-between touching contaminated surfaces. May be, we should all be carrying hand sanitizers with us at all times and use them as frequently as possible. May be, the social practice of shaking hands as one way of greeting people should be discontinued. May be, we should also learn not to touch all kinds of surfaces as much as possible. That way, we would carry less on our hands and less to pass on to our faces.
Otherwise, the only way we would stop touching our faces is to be handcuffed behind our backs. And that will not look pretty. It will take a monk style discipline for a human not to touch his face.
What is your experience with face touching?
Featured image courtesy of the Washington Post.