Nose-picking healthcare workers were more likely to catch COVID-19 during the pandemic

Why not to pick your nose?

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Hospital healthcare workers (HCWs) were more likely to get SARS-CoV-2. Although the primary route of inoculation is through the respiratory mucosa, it is unknown if habitual hand-mucosa contact, such as nose-picking and nail-biting, affects SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

According to studies, a considerable proportion of the adult population picks their Nose regularly. It is possible that nose-picking and nail-biting regularly in an environment with high levels of circulating virus allows the virus to transfer to the nasal or oral mucosa, as shown with nose-picking and S. aureus nasal carriage.

A new study examined how an individual’s behavioral and physical characteristics affect SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Scientists wanted to know more about the role of skin and mucosa manipulating-related behavior (nose picking and nail biting), physical factors influencing PPE fit (having a beard), and susceptibility to droplets (wearing glasses).

Of the 801 Health Care Workers (HCWs), 404 consented to participate in the sub-study after providing written informed permission. In 2021, these 404 were given an extra online retrospective survey on behavioral and physical characteristics that may increase infection rates, such as nose-picking, nail-biting, wearing spectacles, or having a beard.

All survey data were collected using Castor Electronic Data Capture (EDC).

Relation between nose-picking and SARS-CoV-2
Relation between nose-picking and SARS-CoV-2. Image Credit: This image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2 by Open Ai. Lavell et al.

The survey was completed by 219 HCWs (404 participants) interested in behavioral and physical characteristics. 185 respondents admitted to Nose picking regularly, ranging from monthly to weekly to daily. The most common nose pickers were doctors. Nail biting was observed less frequently. 158 people said they wore glasses, while 18/52 men said they had a beard.

By October 2020, 34/219 HCWs had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Only two seropositive subjects never picked their noses, while nine picked their noses monthly, twelve weekly, and eleven daily. None of the individuals stated that they picked their noses every hour.

Scientists noted, “Nose picking among HCWs is associated with an increased risk of contracting a SARS-CoV-2 infection. We, therefore, recommend health care facilities to create more awareness, e.g., by educational sessions or implementing recommendations against nose picking in infection prevention guidelines.”

“This is the first study that shows that Nose picking by HCW is associated with an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. It is surprising to observe the extensiveness in which the scientific community has researched all sorts of SARS-CoV-2 transmission routes, risk factors, and protective measures, yet assessing the role of simple behavioral and physical properties has been overlooked. Possibly this sensitive subject is still taboo in the health care profession.”

Journal Reference:

  1. A. H. Ayesha Lavell,Joeri Tijdink,David T. P. Buis,Yvo M. Smulders,Marije K. Bomers,Jonne J. Sikkens. Why not pick your Nose: Association between nose picking and SARS-CoV-2 incidence, a cohort study in hospital health care workers. Plos One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0288352