Full disclosure: In the process of writing this, I’ve touched my face, not one, not two, but 37 times. I started counting after Face Touch #3 when I realized I might have a problem. By then, the truth was out: Like so many living, breathing humans before me, from time to time I touch my face.
That’s all good and well, except, of course, when it comes to disease prevention.
On Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus (now know as Covid-19) in the U.S. to be contracted by a patient from an unknown source.
So far, there are 60 known coronavirus cases in the U.S. Of those, 59 patients picked up the virus by traveling to regions where the outbreak is present, or through close contact with those who were infected. The majority (42) of those infected in the U.S. contracted coronavirus during a quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship off of Japan.
While the language used to talk about the outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sometimes veered toward alarmism, particularly on social media, medical professionals maintain that it’s not time to freak out just yet.
“There isn’t a need to panic,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, a clinical assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at NYU Langone Health, told Mashable over the phone. “It’s good to take precautions, but you don’t have to live in fear.”
Preventing the coronavirus looks similar to preventing the spread of other viruses or bacteria-borne illnesses, Parikh said.
One super easy prevention tactic? Stop! Touching! Your! Face!
Ideally, Parikh said, this would be your first line of defense. Since people touch their faces so frequently, though, she says that thoroughly washing your hands is one of the best alternate first steps that you can take. Additionally, taking normal flu season precautions, like washing your hands after coming into contact with other people and getting the flu shot, can help to make sure that you’re otherwise in tiptop shape.
“Even though there’s no vaccine [for the coronavirus], you should get vaccines for all the things you can avoid,” Parikh said.
These tactics are all likely to be helpful in staying healthy. Still, all that face-touching is one of the biggest culprits (and easiest fixes) in bacteria and virus transfer: When touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, which you probably do all the time, you’re also transferring whatever might be on your hands, Parikh notes.
“People don’t realize how frequently everyone is touching their face, and how important it is in spreading germs,” she said.
But how do you break an impulsive, largely subconscious habit?
Ultimately, Parikh recommends something exactly like my Face Touch Tally. (By the way: Face Touch Tally is now up to 38.)
“Try to consciously think about it,” she said. “You’ll start to notice, and that might help you stop.”
That said, you can only think about it so much during any given day, Parikh says, so it can be helpful to set a reminder on your phone, in order to catch yourself if you’ve forgotten for a bit.
If you do catch yourself touching your face, Parikh says that you should wash your hands immediately. Since soap and water won’t be available on a crowded subway, or your trip to the grocery store, she recommends carrying hand sanitizer with you so that you can still clean your hands if you catch yourself touching your face when you’re away from a sink.
If you work at a desk, keeping your work area clean (by routinely wiping down your phone, computer, and desk surface) can help ensure that you’re not transferring bacteria or viruses when you do happen to touch your face.
“It’s inevitably going to happen,” Parikh said of touching your face. “[But] it’s important that you take those easy steps that go a long way.”
The latest Face-Touch Tally? 39, but working on it.