Could your handbag be a health hazard during the pandemic?

17 May 2020 - 00:00 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's ring worn outside her pink glove.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's ring worn outside her pink glove.
Image: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

With a striking ring atop her pink-gloved hand, human settlements, water & sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu may be a fashion icon, but in the age of Covid-19 dressing down is set to become the new normal to reduce the risk of infection.

The new "less is more" dress etiquette comes as South Africans slowly return to the workplace, prompting experts to warn about the risks posed by accessories such as scarves, handbags and jewellery.

Touching these potentially contaminated items and then your face puts you at risk of contracting the virus, they say.

According to UK media reports, experts say handbags can harbour thousands of types of bacteria - making them dirtier than the average toilet.

Experts say handbags can harbour thousands of types of bacteria - making them dirtier than the average toilet

The coronavirus is not a bacteria, but preliminary information indicates that it "may persist for a few hours or up to several days" on surfaces, according to the World Health Organisation, making handbags potentially hazardous for those who are stepping out of the safe confines of their homes.

Rings have the potential to trap germs and have been flagged because they may impede proper hygiene methods like hand washing and sanitising.

A 2018 study by researchers at Georgia State University in the US found that when health-care workers wore rings to their jobs "the area where the rings sat on their skin provided a protected area in which bacteria can flourish".

The study also showed that those who didn't wear rings and washed their hands were able to kill more germs than those who did.

Professor Feroza Motara, who heads the emergency department at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg and Wits University's emergency medicine department, said: "Your clothes, shoes, handbags, a scarf - any of those accessories or items which you would normally use - are exposed in an environment where somebody is coughing or sneezing and there are droplets. These could potentially be contaminated."

Watches and wedding bands could also pose a threat

Motara said watches and wedding bands could also pose a threat.

Professor Saajida Mahomed, a public health medicine specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said studies suggest the virus can survive on different surfaces for varying lengths of time, from hours to days.

"However, it is unclear for how long the virus remains infectious during this period. In order for the virus to get to one's handbag or other item, it would mean that someone who has Covid-19 would have coughed or sneezed nearby and a droplet would have landed on these items.

"A person would then have to touch the item where the droplet landed and then touch their mouth or nose or rub their eye for the virus to enter the body."

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