Deadly viruses are no match for plain, old soap — here’s the science behind it

Soap works better than alcohol and disinfectants at destroying the structure of viruses

his is how soap removes dirt, and bacteria, from the skin. Palli Thordarson

Why does soap work so well on the new coronavirus and, indeed, most viruses? Because it is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer.

That sounds scientific. Let me explain.

Soap dissolves the fat membrane, and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and “dies,” or rather, it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive. Viruses can be active outside the body for hours, even days.

Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effect but are not as good as regular soap. Apart from alcohol and soap, antibacterial agents in those products don’t affect the virus structure much. Consequently, many antibacterial products are basically just an expensive version of soap in how they act on viruses. Soap is the best, but alcohol wipes are good when soap is not practical or handy, for example in office reception areas.

Soap outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface, and the virus gets detached and falls apart like a house of cards.

Supramolecular chemistry

But why, exactly, is soap so good? To explain that, I will take you through a journey of supramolecular chemistry, nanoscience and virology. I will try to explain this in generic terms, which means leaving out special chemistry terms. (I must point out that, while I am an expert in supramolecular chemistry and the assembly of nanoparticles, I am not a virologist.)

I have always been fascinated by viruses, as I see them as one of them most spectacular examples of how supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience converge.

Most viruses consist of three key building blocks: RNA, proteins and lipids.The RNA is the viral genetic material — it is similar to DNA. The proteins have several roles, including breaking into the target cell, assisting with virus replication and basically being a key building block (like a brick in a house) in the virus structure.

The lipids then form a coat around the virus, both for protection and to assist with its spread and cellular invasion. The RNA, proteins and lipids self-assemble to form the virus. Critically, there are no strong “covalent” bonds holding these units together.

Instead, the viral self-assembly is based on weak “non-covalent” interactions between the proteins, RNA and lipids. Together, these act together like Velcro, so it is hard to break up the self-assembled viral particle. Still, we can do it — with soap!

Most viruses, including the coronavirus, are between 50-200 nanometers — so they truly are nanoparticles. Nanoparticles have complex interactions with surfaces they are on; it’s the same with viruses. Skin, steel, timber, fabric, paint and porcelain are very different surfaces.

When a virus invades a cell, the RNA “hijacks” the cellular machinery like a computer virus and forces the cell to make fresh copies of its own RNA and the various proteins that make up the virus.

These new RNA and protein molecules self-assemble with lipids (readily present in the cell) to form new copies of the virus. That is, the virus does not photocopy itself; it makes copies of the building blocks, which then self-assemble into new viruses.

All those new viruses eventually overwhelm the cell, and it dies or explodes, releasing viruses that then go on to infect more cells. In the lungs, viruses end up in the airways and mucous membranes.

When you cough, or especially when you sneeze, tiny droplets from the airways can fly up to 30 feet. The larger ones are thought to be main coronavirus carriers, and they can go at least 7 feet. So, cover your coughs and sneezes!

Skin is an ideal surface for viruses

These tiny droplets end up on surfaces and dry out quickly. But the viruses are still active. What happens next is all about supramolecular chemistry and how self-assembled nanoparticles (like the viruses) interact with their environment.

Now it is time to introduce a powerful supramolecular chemistry concept that effectively says: Similar molecules appear to interact more strongly with each other than dissimilar ones. Wood, fabric and skin interact fairly strongly with viruses.

Contrast this with steel, porcelain and at least some plastics, such as Teflon. The surface structure also matters. The flatter the surface, the less the virus will “stick” to the surface. Rougher surfaces can actually pull the virus apart.

So why are surfaces different? The virus is held together by a combination of hydrogen bonds (like those in water) and hydrophilic, or “fat-like,” interactions. The surface of fibers or wood, for instance, can form a lot of hydrogen bonds with the virus.

In contrast, steel, porcelain or Teflon do not form much of a hydrogen bond with the virus. So the virus is not strongly bound to those surfaces and is quite stable.

For how long does the virus stay active? It depends. The novel coronavirus is thought to stay active on favorable surfaces for hours, possibly a day. What makes the virus less stable? Moisture (“dissolves”), sunlight (UV light) and heat (molecular motions).

The skin is an ideal surface for a virus. It is organic, of course, and the proteins and fatty acids in the dead cells on the surface interact with the virus through both hydrogen bonds and the “fat-like” hydrophilic interactions.

So when you touch a steel surface with a virus particle on it, it will stick to your skin and, hence, get transferred on to your hands. But you are not (yet) infected. If you touch your face, though, the virus can get transferred.

And now the virus is dangerously close to the airways and the mucus-type membranes in and around your mouth and eyes. So the virus can get in and — voila! — you are infected. That is, unless your immune system kills the virus.

If the virus is on your hands, you can pass it on by shaking someone’s else hand. Kisses, well, that’s pretty obvious. It goes without saying that if someone sneezes in your face, you’re stuck.

So how often do you touch your face? It turns out most people touch the face once every two to five minutes. So you’re at high risk once the virus gets on your hands, unless you wash off the active virus.

So let’s try washing it off with plain water. It might just work. But water “only” competes with the strong “glue-like” interactions between the skin and virus via hydrogen bonds. The virus is sticky and may not budge. Water isn’t enough.

Soap dissolves a virus’ structure

Soapy water is totally different. Soap contains fat-like substances known as amphiphiles, some structurally similar to the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap molecules “compete” with the lipids in the virus membrane. That is more or less how soap also removes normal dirt of the skin (see graphic at the top of this article).

The soap molecules also compete with a lot other non-covalent bonds that help the proteins, RNA and the lipids to stick together. The soap is effectively “dissolving” the glue that holds the virus together. Add to that all the water.

The soap also outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface. Soon the virus gets detached and falls apart like a house of cards due to the combined action of the soap and water. Boom, the virus is gone!

The skin is rough and wrinkly, which is why you need a fair amount of rubbing and soaking to ensure the soap reaches every nook and cranny on the skin surface that could be hiding active viruses.

Alcohol-based products include all “disinfectants” and “antibacterial” products that contain a high share of alcohol solution, typically 60%-80% ethanol, sometimes with a bit of isopropanol, water and a bit of soap.

Ethanol and other types of alcohol do not only readily form hydrogen bonds with the virus material but, as a solvent, are more lipophilic than water. Hence, alcohol does dissolve the lipid membrane and disrupt other supramolecular interactions in the virus.

However, you need a fairly high concentration (maybe 60%-plus) of the alcohol to get a rapid dissolution of the virus. Vodka or whiskey (usually 40% ethanol) won’t dissolve the virus as quickly. Overall, alcohol is not as good as soap at this task.

Nearly all antibacterial products contain alcohol and some soap, and that does help kill viruses. But some also include “active” bacterial killing agents, such as triclosan. Those, however, do basically nothing to the virus.

Alcohol works — to a degree

To sum up, viruses are almost like grease-nanoparticles. They can stay active for many hours on surfaces and then get picked up by touch. Then they get to our face and infect us because most of us touch our face frequently.

Water is not effective alone in washing the virus off our hands. Alcohol-based products work better. But nothing beats soap — the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart readily in soapy water.

Supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience tell us not only a lot about how the virus self-assembles into a functional, active menace, but also how we can beat viruses with something as simple as soap.

Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/deadly-viruses-are-no-match-for-plain-old-soap-heres-the-science-behind-it-2020-03-08

How has coronavirus affected China’s and the world’s economy compared to SARS outbreak?

The deadly coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, is sending ripples across the global business community as numerous firms close their doors and employees stay home in an effort to contain the outbreak from spreading.

As the number of people infected and the death toll continue to rise, multinational businesses from supply chains to automakers to tourism and the film industry are beginning to feel the impact.

A man wearing a face mask waits for his food at an empty restaurant in Beijing.

Airlines have canceled 25,000 flights to and within China after ticket sales collapsed, according to travel data provider OAG. General Motors Co. and other automakers are telling employees to limit travel to China, their biggest market.

The Chinese gambling enclave of Macau announced on Tuesday that it was closing casinos for two weeks as a precaution. The territory is a big moneymaker for U.S. casino operators Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Hyundai Motors, meanwhile, said it is suspending production in South Korea due to disruptions in the supply of parts as a result of the outbreak. It said it is seeking alternative suppliers in other regions.

The coronavirus has drawn comparisons to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-2003. SARS emerged in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong before spreading around the world, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing nearly 800 in 26 countries.

A woman runs past an Apple logo colored red in Beijing, China.

At the time, China had just gained access to global markets, having only recently joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). The country had an abundant supply of low-wage workers who made low-cost goods like T-shirts and shoes for customers around the world.

Though the SARS outbreak did have some effect on the global economy, growth rebounded relatively quickly, and the overall impact was limited.

But today, international companies increasingly rely on China, the world’s No. 2 economy, as a major buyer of food, cars, movie tickets, and other goods. That reliance has left companies more exposed than ever to the pain of its latest abrupt slump.

Forecasters predict that even if China recovers quickly, the worldwide impact could be bigger than SARS. That is because China now accounts for more than 16 percent of global economic activity – more than triple its share in 2003, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Many manufacturers have yet to feel the impact because factories closed for up to three weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. But forecasters say delays in reopening will quickly depress demand for imported components and materials such as copper and steel.

Source: https://www.foxnews.com/world/how-has-coronavirus-affected-china-worlds-economy-sars-outbreak

Coronavirus:

Hong Kong confirms first death, a 39-year-old man

  • City suffers first fatality related to deadly virus originating in Wuhan, the second outside mainland China
  • Coronavirus patient, from Whampoa Garden, succumbs to heart failure on Tuesday morning
A patient at Princess Margaret Hospital has become the first in Hong Kong to succumb to an illness related to the coronavirus. Photo: Bloomberg
A patient at Princess Margaret Hospital has become the first in Hong Kong to succumb to an illness related to the coronavirus. Photo: Bloomberg

Hong Kong has confirmed two more cases of the deadly new coronavirus, just hours after a 39-year-old man became the first to die in the city after being infected.

Health officials said there was no obvious source of infection for the two most recent cases but it was suspected it had been transmitted locally. It took the total number of cases in the city to 17.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said so far four confirmed cases presented “no obvious source of infection”, and warned of the possibility of outbreaks in the community.

“It is highly probably the four cases were infected locally, so there could be invisible chains of infection happening within communities,” Chuang said. “We do not rule out a large spread [of the virus] in the future.”

She urged people to maintain good personal hygiene and wash their hands frequently, and said some reports had shown the virus could linger on door handles.

The Department of Health said neither patient had any recent travel history to mainland China nor family members who had crossed the border.

The first of the new cases concerned a woman, 64, who went to work at a clothing store in Jordan, Kowloon while displaying symptoms on January 23.

The department said they were not sure how many people had been in contact with the female patient, as she was in a deteriorating state and on a ventilator.

The other, a 60 year-old male retiree, visited four private clinics before he was taken to hospital and later tested positive for the virus.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, a man being treated for the virus at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung, died after his condition deteriorated. He had suffered sudden heart failure, according to medical sources.

The Whampoa Garden resident was previously identified as Hong Kong’s 13th confirmed case of the novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan. His death is the second fatality linked with the outbreak that has been reported outside mainland China.

He had been to Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, on January 21 and returned to Hong Kong two days later via the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, before developing a fever on January 31.

The man was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei on the same day, where he was confirmed to be infected before his transfer to an isolation ward at Princess Margaret Hospital.

He had underlying health issues, according to information previously disclosed by the Centre for Health Protection.
The deceased man had lived in block 1, site 11 of Whampoa Garden in Hung Hom with his mother, the government had revealed earlier.

She was confirmed on February 2 as Hong Kong’s 15th case, but did not have a recent history of travel. The 72-year-old was believed to have caught the virus from close contact with her son, health officials said earlier.

The Hospital Authority confirmed at about 10.30am on Tuesday the man had died in Princess Margaret Hospital after his condition deteriorated.

Health authorities have confirmed 15 cases of the coronavirus in Hong Kong. More than 20,600 people have been been infected across the world with the death toll in its hundreds.

Source: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3048839/coronavirus-hong-kong-confirms-first-death-39

Coronavirus:

All you need to know about symptoms and risks

Countries around the world are stepping up efforts to tackle a new coronavirus that originated in China’s Wuhan city.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over a new coronavirus that has killed at least 361 people in China following an outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, forcing a government lockdown in almost 20 cities that, in effect, has quarantined an estimated 56 million people.

More than 17,300 cases have been reported worldwide, most of them in China’s Hubei province. A man from Wuhan also died in the Philippines on February 2, becoming the first death outside of China.

The infection is now more widespread than the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which also originated in China, in terms of affected people but not deaths.

Here is what you need to know:

What is coronavirus?

According to the WHO, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

These viruses were originally transmitted between animals and people. SARS, for instance, was believed to have been transmitted from civet cats to humans while MERS travelled from a type of camel to humans.

Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown or halo. Under an electron microscope, the image of the virus is reminiscent of a solar corona.

A novel coronavirus, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and named 2019-nCoV, is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans.

Little is known about it, although human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.

What are the symptoms?

According to the WHO, signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and even death.

The incubation period of the coronavirus remains unknown. Some sources say it could be between 10 and 14 days.

How deadly is it?

Some experts say it may not be as deadly as other types of coronavirus such as SARS, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide, more than 300 in China alone – during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also originated in China.

MERS, which did not spread as widely, was more deadly, killing one-third of those it infected.

In China, however, the infection is more widespread than SARS in terms of case numbers.

Where have cases been reported?

Most cases and deaths have been reported in China – the vast majority in Hubei Province.

So far, the Philippines is the only country that has reported a death from the new virus outside of mainland China.

The virus has spread to many Asian countries, as well as Australia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. Nearly all of the dozens of cases outside China are among people who recently travelled there.

Read more about which countries have confirmed cases here.

What is being done to stop it from spreading?

Scientists are working on a vaccine but have warned one is unlikely to be available for mass distribution before 2021.

Chinese authorities have effectively sealed off Wuhan, and have placed restrictions on travel to and from several other cities, affecting some 56 million people.

The move was meant to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading” and protect lives, the central city’s special command centre against the virus said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Many airlines have cancelled flights to China, while some countries have banned Chinese nationals from entering and have evacuated their citizens from Wuhan.

Where did the virus originate?

Chinese health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which they say likely came from a seafood market in Wuhan where wildlife was also traded illegally.

The WHO also says an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak.

On February 2, officials in Hubei said the virus had a 96 percent concordance with an already-known bat-borne coronavirus. Chinese scientists previously mentioned snakes as a possible source.

Is this a global emergency?

The outbreak constitutes a global health emergency, the WHO has said.

The decision to sound the top-level alarm was made after the first cases of human-to-human transmission outside China were confirmed.

The international health alert is a call on countries around the world to coordinate their response under the guidance of the United Nations health agency.

There have been five global health emergencies since 2005 when the declaration was formalised: swine flu in 2009; polio in 2014; Ebola in 2014; Zika in 2016 and Ebola again in 2019.

Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/china-admits-shortcomings-coronavirus-death-toll-hits-425-200203234036932.html