Even if you try to avoid the COVID-related headlines, I’m
guessing most of us have heard there are some new kids on the block — the COVID
variants. The idea of the virus responsible for this pandemic mutating to
become more transmissible has led to widespread panic, and understandably so.
But what does this actually mean, and more importantly, is there anything we
should be doing differently to protect ourselves?
Viruses mutate all the time. When they replicate inside host cells, random mistakes in the process result in new viruses that are different in some way – if these random mutations help viruses replicate more easily, they will stick around in the virus population. The variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are viruses that have significant mutations that affect they way they behave. At this point, a few major variants that have been identified have emerged in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. While these variants seem to spread more easily between people, there isn’t any evidence to suggest at this point that they cause more severe disease. Public health experts are keeping a close eye on whether current vaccines will be less effective, but we haven’t seen this so far.
While the emergence of variants isn’t surprising to experts, it’s only natural for us to wonder whether our current infection prevention practices are no longer getting the job done. One question that Nicole and I have often been asked is whether disinfectants are still effective against a new strain of pathogen, whether it’s drug-resistant bacteria or a new type of influenza. Almost always, the answer is “yes”. An analogy that we use is that a pathogen is like a locked door. A mutation or variant is like changing the lock, so that the old key won’t open it anymore. But using a disinfectant is like smashing the door with a sledgehammer – instead of targeting one specific mechanism like a key, disinfectants tend to attack from multiple angles. Changing the lock won’t affect the ability of the sledgehammer to break down the door. Similarly, there is no reason to think that standard hospital disinfectants with efficacy against hard-to-kill viruses will be any less effective against COVID variants. Our focus should still be on cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces as a general precaution against the spread of infection.
Likewise, the other strategies that we know can help keep us safe are still our best defence, including hand hygiene, distancing, and wearing a mask when in close contact with others. Your local public health authorities should provide guidance on any new developments to be aware of. While variants may seem scary, it’s important to remember that this is a normal process seen in a lot of pathogens, and that the basic rules of infection prevention stay the same!
As an update on Talk Clean To Me, we have decided to post every other week moving forward. While we try to bring informative and educational content to our readers, we also do not want to be clutter your inboxes and create more noise in your already loud and busy day! See you in two weeks with the latest disinfection and infection prevention news!