Microbiologist Dr Andy Fogarty
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, explains 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, whose crownlike spikes of glycoproteins give it its name, 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 one piece of genetic code, a protein coat and an outer layer of fat. This outer coating of fat 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,” the Tullamore-based microbiologist explains.
While 80% of people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms, approximately 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,” Dr Fogarty stresses. “We need to slow down the spread of transfer so that critical care facilities are available for those who need it.”
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. “People are aware to avoid someone coughing but forget about touching their face with their fingers which
may have picked up the virus from a surface such as a door handle or tap.”
He recommends that people avoid touching their faces, especially when in an area of higher potential exposure. “Imagine that your hands have coal dust on them, and you don’t want to get it on your face,” he says.
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
Remarking on the incredible work being carried out by front-line medical staff, including GPs, those who work in hospitals, directors of public health, laboratory staff and pharmacists, Dr Fogarty adds: “These people are the unsung heroes in the battle against COVID-19.”
Visit www.ait.ie/covid19 for regular, up-to-date information about AIT’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19).