Wearing disposable gloves made of latex or nitrile rubber offers little protection against the coronavirus, according to a health expert, as they're not 100% impermeable and, like your hands, can pick up microorganisms on things you touch, be it a door handle or a shopping cart.
"The virus doesn't enter the body via the hands, but via mucous membranes – when you touch your nose or mouth, for example," said Dr. Joerg Janne Vehreschild, an infection researcher in Germany dealing with SARS-CoV-2.
The most important rule to follow, he said, is to keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes when you are outside or grocery shopping. After returning home, you should thoroughly wash or disinfect your hands. And to prevent infection via airborne droplets, always keep a safe distance, a meter or two, from other people.
The Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute (RKI), responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany, also stressed the importance of proper hand hygiene in protecting against infection. Thoroughly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds greatly reduces the number of germs on them, says Germany's Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA).
Neither organization recommends disposable gloves as a safeguard against SARS-CoV-2. When used properly, disposable gloves are not totally ineffective, however, according to Vehreschild.
You may be able to lower your infection risk a little "if, for instance, you stick gloves in your trouser pockets, put them on while grocery shopping and then throw them away after you've loaded the groceries (into your car) and returned the shopping trolley," he said, adding you could also disinfect the trolley handle beforehand, or wash your hands afterward.
What you definitely should not do though is wear disposable gloves for extended periods of time, such as while taking walks. Hygienically, this is more detrimental than not. As Vehreschild explains, the skin – home to a multitude of microorganisms known as skin flora that include bacteria with protective properties – disinfects itself to a certain extent, but gloves can interfere with this process.
"In addition, you sweat heavily under a glove, which isn't good for the skin flora for any length of time," he says, pointing out that medical personnel normally never wear the same pair of gloves all day.
It doesn't appear that touching things like packages or food and then your face is a significant transmission route, he said, noting that the viral load on objects is probably too small to be highly infectious.
"This may not be the case, however, for shopping trolley handles, door handles and other surfaces that are touched heavily." But nothing can be stated with certainty yet.
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