Hand Washing: The Primary Defence in the Fight Against Covid-19

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Viruses work by invading a cell and using the cellular machinery to force the cell to replicate the viral RNA and viral proteins, which then rebuild into new viruses. This accumulation of viruses eventually causes the cell to die or burst, releasing the viruses to then infect more cells.

The current health advice for washing hands with soap and water is based on the ability of soap molecules to interfere with lipids in the virus membrane, breaking down the outer fat (lipid) layer of the virus. Moreover, the soap molecules can compete with the other non-covalent bonds between the proteins, RNA and lipids, effectively 'dissolving' the glue that holds the virus together. The soap can also disrupt the interactions between the virus and the skin surface, removing viruses from the skin.

This is all due to the 'amphiphilic' nature of soap molecules. Each molecule has a hydrophilic ('water-loving') head and a hydrophobic ('water-hating') tail. Viruses are surrounded by a 'lipid bilayer', made up of two bands of hydrophobic tails sandwiched between two rings of hydrophilic heads.

When exposed to soap and water, viruses are prised apart, as the hydrophobic tails of the soap molecules attempt to escape from water and wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of the virus, rupturing the viral membrane, rendering the virus inactive on all freshly cleaned surfaces.

Disinfectant products:

Disinfectants should be used for spot treating door handles and other high-touch surfaces.

Alcohol-based hand Sanitisers:

Ethanol and other types of alcohol are solvents and are therefore more lipophilic ('fat loving') than water. This means that alcohol does dissolve the lipid membrane and disrupt the virus.

However, a high concentration of alcohol (≥60%) is required. If purchasing alcohol sanitiser that does not state the concentration ask for the Data Sheet and read Section 2 or 3.
These hand sanitisers are useful when soap and water are not available. 

To conclude, soap and water remain the 'gold standard', as the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart readily in soapy water.

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