Coronavirus: Professor of infectious diseases ‘rinses deliveries to ward off the pathogen’

A woman wears a mask in Halle, Germany. (Getty Images)

A professor of infectious diseases has revealed she is “rinsing” her deliveries amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Professor Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine identifies as being in a “vulnerable group”.

To be on the safe side, she rinses deliveries that arrive in non-perishable packaging under running water.

The risk of catching the coronavirus while unpacking shopping is thought to be “small”, however, Professor Bloomfield believes it is “worthwhile to take precautions”.

This is particularly true given the uncertain number of people who may be infected but not showing symptoms.

Only those with the tell-tale fever and cough have been told to self-isolate entirely. Seemingly healthy patients may therefore be packaging or dropping off deliveries, all the while “shedding” the virus.

A couple wear masks in Madrid. (Getty Images)

‘It’s worthwhile to take precautions’

“The risk [of becoming infected from deliveries] is small,” Professor Bloomfield told Yahoo UK.

“We have no data on the extent of the risk but even if it’s one in a million, that’s still [approximately] 63 people who will [statistically] contract it”.

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A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US suggests the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, lingering for up to 24 hours on cardboard.

Erring on the side of caution, Professor Bloomfield explained that following a recent delivery she “quarantined” items she did not imminently need in cupboards or the fridge.

The virus is thought to no longer be “viable” after around 72 hours. The NIH study found the pathogen was only detected up to three days later on plastic and stainless steel.

When sorting her shop, Professor Bloomfield rinsed the items she planned to use relatively soon.

“Put it all on the left side of the sink, run it under the tap, put it on the right side to dry,” said Professor Bloomfield.

“Don’t make a big effort of it.”

She stressed the water has to be running, with each item being held beneath the tap for a few seconds.

“Running water takes the virus off,” said Professor Bloomfield.

“If you wipe it then you wipe the virus onto the cloth.

“If I had a bleach spray I could do that, that would kill the virus.”

The professor is equally cautious when it comes to post.

“When letters arrive I hold them in my left hand, take the contents out with my right hand and discard the envelope, then wash my hands,” she said.

While it may sound extreme, Professor Bloomfield claimed the measures are “part of her routine”.

“The likelihood of having a car crash is small, but we all still put our seatbelt on”, she said.

“[The rinsing is] part of my routine now.

“I do it because I want to keep the risk as low as I possibly can. It’s worthwhile to take precautions.”

Professor Bloomfield identifies herself and her husband as being in a higher-risk group.

The NHS defines this as people over 70 or those with pre-existing health issues.

Scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Exeter have argued, however, anyone over 60 could be at “considerable risk”.

Professor Bloomfield stressed “disinfecting” deliveries is not as important as regular hand washing or social distancing.

Asymptomatic people still ‘shed’ the virus

While anyone showing coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate entirely for seven days, and other members of their household for two weeks, issues arise when people become infected but show no warning signs.

“We can be highly infectious and feel perfectly well,” said Professor Bloomfield.

“If people [feel] healthy but are infected, [they are still] shedding the infection.

“They’re not isolated in their own homes.”

The number of asymptomatic patients has been debated.

On 3 March, the World Health Organization’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Evidence from China is only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days”.

Scientists from the University of Hong Kong scientists later claimed 12.1% of patients do not develop a fever.

The coronavirus mainly spreads via coughs and sneezes, which are symptoms.

An asymptomatic person may therefore be expected to pass the virus to fewer people.

Nevertheless, they may still cough or sneeze occasionally, or expel infected saliva when they speak.

Referencing her recent delivery, Professor Bloomfield claimed she likely ordered between 50 and 70 items.

All of which had been “recently touched by somebody”.

Despite the risk, Boris Johnson has urged Britons to take advantage of at-home food deliveries if possible, with supermarkets thought to be a “hot spot” for infection.

“Let's assume asymptomatic patients are also spreaders,” Dr James Gill from Warwick Medical School previously said.

“If you go to the shops for a few items and encounter 30 people, which is reasonable in a big supermarket, you could potentially be exposed to people infected with the virus who are not showing signs.”

When it comes to postal deliveries, a Royal Mail spokesperson told Yahoo UK: “The vast majority of mail can be posted safely through the letterbox without any interaction with the customer at all. 

“We are temporarily not handing over our hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures.

“Standard ways of working are being revised to ensure that, wherever possible, colleagues stay two metres apart.”

A nurse takes swabs at a shopping centre in Melbourne. (Getty Images)

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.

Others cause everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Since the outbreak was identified, more than 3.2 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Of these cases, over 992,500 are known to have “recovered”.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 228,600.

Although the coronavirus mainly spreads face to face via infected droplets expelled in a cough or sneeze, there is also evidence it is transmitted in faeces.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are given “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.