As a former power walker, I sympathise with the runners who are now allowed to exercise outdoors but are expected to wear face masks that obstruct their breathing. However, recent studies by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that many asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers of Covid-19 have transmitted the virus to others before showing symptoms themselves.

Just talking to someone can send them droplets, so the CDC now recommends that everyone wear a simple cloth face mask in public. This may not stop you from getting Covid-19, but it should help prevent you from giving it to others. The CDC’s website explains how to make a CDC-approved cloth face mask at home from common materials at low cost.

Do not put a mask on kids under 2 years old or buy an N95 mask or any professional mask that could be used to protect health care workers, as they are in short supply.



Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has led to more frequent use of chemicals and disinfectants in homes and businesses. We and the health authorities must share responsibility for educating the population in using them with care — in particular, to read, understand and apply the manufacturers’ information and instructions on their containers.

The result of a US parent’s complaint to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (not the US Food and Drug Administration, as I wrote last week) that students were cleaning their desks with Clorox wipes, was a pesticide inspector issuing the schools a “letter of warning” to stop them asking children to use products labelled “Keep out of reach of children.”

Children are more sensitive to the health effects of toxic chemicals, particularly during early development. Indeed, US researchers estimated that five percent of childhood cancer and 30 percent of childhood asthma are related to chemical exposures, which contribute to the poor indoor air quality that can aggravate respiratory diseases. Health effects from exposure to toxic chemicals may not show up for years or even decades, so it is better to be safe than sorry in protecting children from potential health effects.

The CDC also warns cleaning service workers, farm workers handling pesticides, auto technicians, and anyone who uses or handles chemicals at work not to apply sanitisers to their hands, but to wash them with soap and water. Mixing chemicals on the skin can be dangerous.


Skin problems

Additionally, regular use of alcohol-based sanitisers will dry out the skin. This effect can be mitigated by applying moisturiser, but your hands may become cracked and more susceptible to infection.

Instead of repeatedly cleaning your hands with sanitiser, try to limit its use to one application when you finish work. Otherwise, you may suffer unpleasant skin irritation, breakdown, and damage, with cracks in your skin that won’t heal.

If you have cuts on your hands, using hand sanitiser will kill some bacteria, but it also kills and irritates healthy skin and can hurt quite a bit. Far better to clean them with soap and water.

Also, read the list of ingredients on sanitiser labels carefully. Some contain triclosan, exposure to which may lower bone mass, risking osteoporosis in older women, who should avoid using them every day.


Lung disease

Researchers at Harvard University and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) analysed data from more than 55,000 nurses in US hospitals from 2009 until 2017.They linked the regular use of disinfectants to a higher risk of developing progressive lung diseases.

Of those nurses, 663 were diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those who used disinfectants to clean surfaces at least once a week had a 22 percent increased risk of developing the illness, with those exposed to glutaraldehyde, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) having an increased risk of 24 to 32 percent.