Leading Microbiologist: ‘Think in Fives’ to Help Combat COVID-19

A Midlands-based microbiologist has urged people to “think in fives” to protect themselves from coronavirus (COVID-19).

Dr Andy Fogarty, who lecturers in the Department of Life and Physical Sciences at Athlone Institute of Technology, says that COVID-19 has five possible entry routes into the body: the eyes, nostrils and mouth. “It cannot penetrate the skin, just the mucous membranes,” he explains.

The coronavirus, which derives its name from its crown-like spikes of glycoproteins, is incredibly small - approximately 30 million times smaller than the human body. “Five hundred million COVID19 viruses would fit atop a full stop,” Dr Fogarty says.

Minimalist in design, coronaviruses consist of just one piece of genetic code, a protein coat and an outer layer of fat. This outer coating is what makes hand hygiene so crucial in the fight against COVID-19. “Just 20 seconds of thorough handwashing can dissolve the fat layer protecting the virus, much like washing-up liquid and a greasy pan,” he explains.

According to the Tullamore man, around 80% of people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms, 14% will experience severe symptoms and a further 6% will become critically ill. “The virus is particularly serious for the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions and the immunocompromised. We need to slow down the spread of transfer so that critical care facilities are available for those who need it,” Dr Fogarty stresses.

While there is limited evidence of asymptomatic transmission, it is possible for someone to shed the virus and spread it before exhibiting symptoms. Therefore, social distancing is vital to reducing the spread. “Even if a person has no symptoms today, they may have tomorrow, so it is difficult to say when they contracted the virus,” Dr Fogarty explains.

He recommends that people avoid touching their faces, especially when in an area of higher potential exposure: “People know to avoid someone who is coughing but still touch their face with their fingers which may have picked up the virus from a surface such as a door handle or tap, so imagine that your hands have coal dust on them, and you don’t want to get it on your face.”

Children and young adults that contract the virus generally exhibit mild symptoms, but may transfer the virus to older, more vulnerable people. With that in mind, Dr Fogarty recommends talking to them about the things that they can do to help stop the spread.

Remarking on the incredible work being carried out by front-line medical staff, including GPs, hospital workers, directors of public health, laboratory staff and pharmacists, Dr Fogarty adds: “These people are the unsung heroes in the battle against COVID-19.”

For tips on how to manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out these downloadable resources (Available in multiple languages).

Visit www.ait.ie/covid19 for regular, up-to-date information about AIT’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Athlone Institute of Technology is a contemporary third level institute distinguished by academic excellence in teaching, learning and research. The institute was awarded The Sunday Times ‘Institute of Technology of the Year 2020, 2018 and Runner-Up in 2017. The institute also tops Ireland’s official league table for research and was listed in U-Multirank’s ‘Top 25 Performing Universities in the World for Interdisciplinary Research’ in 2018 and 2019. Athlone Institute of Technology is currently ranked number one nationally for student satisfaction - a position it has maintained for six consecutive years. For more information relating to the institute’s CAO programmes, visit www.ait.ie. #ChooseAIT

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