Keeping nose and throat clean

Nepal has had three months of lead time to study the coronavirus pandemic and behaviours that have been associated with flattening the curve of the COVID-19 infection. Every cultural circumstance has the potential to contribute a different solution, and we should attempt to link our own common practices with the pandemic to come up with novel ways of dealing with it.

One such behaviour could the Nepali habit of blowing the nose hard (seee-seee!) and the deep, loud, clearing the throat (haak-thoo!).

The COVID-19 spreads through droplets transmitted though the air from sneezing and coughing. If two people have not maintained social distancing, virus particles from an infected person may land on an uninfected companion and enter the latter’s body through her eyes, nose, or mouth. The particles then travel to the back of the nasal passages and to the mucus membrane at the back of the throat.

The spiked protein of the coronavirus particles hook on to cell membranes at the back of the throat, and it is here that the virus’s genetic material enters the cells of the human body, resulting in infection. The symptoms of dry cough and sore throat start with this. The genetic material of the virus then uses the cells as the virus’s carriers and multipliers and starts to move down the bronchial tubes towards the lungs, where it does the most damage.

If coronavirus particles travel to the back of the nasal passage and the back of the throat to infect the individual in question, could it be that the loud Nepali habit of blowing the nose hard and clearing the throat can contribute to reducing the numbers of infected?

If this is indeed the case, all that blowing and spitting must be done in an appropriate place. Doing it in public and where others are present risks spreading the virus even more widely.

Given that the coronavirus resides at the back of the nose and throat before making its way to the lungs, could it be that our first line of defense – if we should get the virus – would be to wash our faces, including our eyes, and to blow our noses and clear our throats?

We should wash our hands several times a day  as we have been instructed. Our hands can transfer the virus from one place to another. They can infect us if they bring the virus in contact with our own eyes, nose, or mouth, and if we are infected, they can pass the virus on by bringing the virus into contact with things that others will touch.

But if the virus has in fact already found its way on to our bodies, then we will want to get it off of our bodies, and perhaps washing our faces and ejecting it from our noses and mouths – as so many Nepalis do – is the way.

Once again, it is critical that we never spit or blow our noses in public places. Avoiding this restricts the spread not only of coronavirus but of major killers that have been around for much longer, such as TB  If we must blow our noses or clear our throats in public, we should blow our noses into a handkerchief which we later wash, and we must swallow our saliva. If swallowed, the virus particles would be killed by the juices in the digestive tract.

Perhaps, in addition to frequent hand-washing, we should wash our faces, blow our noses and cough out several times a day as part of an anti-coronavirus regimen.

Shanta Basnet has a PhD in public health from Columbia University.