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What You Can Do to Break the Chain of Infection

While details about the novel coronavirus (SARs-CoV-2) continue to emerge, such as the percentage of people infected who never show symptoms, there are many facts we do know about the virus. Like many other viruses, SARs-CoV-2 spreads from person to person through a known process. This series of steps is the chain of infection. To prevent the virus from spreading, we must understand these steps and break the chain of infection.

There are five points at which the chain can be broken and the virus can be stopped from infecting others. Each step in the chain is covered below, along with examples of ways you can help break that link in the chain of infection.

How the Virus Gets In (Portal of Entry)

The virus enters the body through our eyes, nose and mouth. This can occur when we touch our face after coming in contact with a contaminated surface or when inhaling airborne droplets of the virus.

How to break to chain:

  • Do not touch your face unless your hands are clean.
  • Create a barrier between you and the virus. Wear a mask or other facial covering when in public.

Where the Virus Lives (The Reservoir)

The virus thrives in our respiratory tract. Infected people can be contagious before showing symptoms and can pass on the virus without ever experiencing symptoms.

How to break to chain:

  • Assume everyone is infected with the virus. Practice physical and social distancing by staying six feet away from other people.
  • Act as if you might have the virus. Limit your own face-to-face contact with other people and practice distancing yourself.

How the Virus Gets Out (Exit Portal)

The virus exits the body of an infected host through droplets expelled into the air by coughing, sneezing and even breathing.

How to break the chain:

  • Cough and sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue, not your hands.
  • Throw tissues directly into the trash after using them.
  • Wear a mask or other facial covering to reduce the distance that droplets travel in the air.

How the Virus Spreads (Mode of Transmission)

The virus spreads to a new host via direct and indirect contact. Examples of direct contact include the hands, high-touch surfaces, tools, etc. Examples of indirect contact include droplets through sneezing, coughing and speaking. The virus can survive outside the body for a few hours to a few days depending on the surface. During this time, it can be killed before it infects another person.

How to break to chain:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces with a cleaning spray or wipe.

Next Potential Sick Person (Viable Host)

A strong immune system is the final link in the chain. People over age 65 and those with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and smoking are at higher risk for serious health complications if they get COVID-19.

How to break to chain:

  • Take steps to manage existing chronic conditions.
  • Support your immune system by getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, drinking lots of water, getting regular exercise and managing stress.

Even though we can’t see the virus, by understanding the chain of infection, we can change how we view the world around us and how we interact with our environment. By arming ourselves with the knowledge of how to break the chain, we can stop the spread of the virus.

[Ryan Papariello is the OSH Division’s Safety & Health Specialist.]

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