If you could pick one thing to reduce your risk of getting Covid-19, what would it be? Well, it’s certainly not your nose. Nose-picking may be associated with 3.8 times the risk of catching the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), according to a study published on August 2 in PLOS One. That same study dug out another finding that may hit you right in the nose: 84.5% of healthcare workers surveyed admitted to picking their nose with the frequency of these pickings ranging from daily to weekly to monthly. The emphasis here is on the word “admitted.”
Why did a team from the Amsterdam University Medical Centers (UMC) in The Netherlands pick such a habit to study? Well, this UMC team (A. H. Ayesha Lavell, Joeri Tijdink, David T. P. Buis, Yvo M. Smulders, Marije K. Bomers, and Jonne J. Sikkens) mentioned in the publication that guidelines for healthcare facilities typically recommend the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and the frequent use of proper hand hygiene techniques. However, they wondered whether other precautions may be needed. For example, you don’t often see healthcare facilities hanging posters that show a nose and the words “Do Not Enter” written across the nostrils. Or nailing people who are biting their nails. Or doing anything that may make it more difficult for them to properly wear PPE.
Therefore, they administered a survey to 404 healthcare workers at the Amsterdam UMC that asked them about such habits including what they have tended to do with the nether regions of their noses. A total of 219 ended up completing the survey for a response rate of 52% and 34 or 15.5% of these respondents had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 from March 2020 till October 2020. Of the respondents, 185 reported digging for gold, so to speak, at least some of the time. Breaking this down by type of healthcare worker revealed that 79.8% of the 99 nurses, 100% of the 10 residents, 90.9% of the 33 specialists, and 85.5% of the support staff admitted to nose diving. The authors didn’t specify which specialists these were. But presumably they weren’t all ear, nose, and throat specialists. And if you can’t quite put your finger on whether this was more a male or more a female habit, keep in mind that 90.4% of the 52 men and 83.1% of the 166 women indicated that they picked their noses. Yes, this just wasn’t a boogie man situation. There were many boogie women too.
And as indicated earlier those who picked their noses were more likely to have picked up the SARS-CoV-2—3.8 times more likely. Yep, 17.3% of the 185 those who knew how to pick em versus 5.9% of 34 who didn’t ended up getting Covid-19.
These probably weren’t super surprising findings. You probably didn’t expect nose picking to somehow be protective against Covid-19. When it comes to nose picking, you know the drill. Inserting a finger into your nose means that you are essentially shoving whatever may be on your fingers up yours, so to beak. And unless you keep your fingers very clean, who knows what’s going up your nose. Once viruses such as the SARS-CoV-2 are up your knows, that’s kind of like saying, “Come on, Barbie, let’s go party.” While the way to your heart may be through your stomach, the way to Covid-19 is through your nose and mouth.
In the meantime, the study didn’t really show any nail biting findings. Or glass wearing or beard wearing findings either. There was no real association between these behaviors and the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 infections. That’s good news if you want to work in a healthcare facility and look like Abraham Lincoln.
In case you haven’t picked it up, this wasn’t the perfect study. A survey can only tell you so much. Respondents may be reluctant to admit that they pick their nose. After all, you typically don’t start off most conversations by saying, “The other day while I was picking my nose.” Since the study did not include someone following those surveyed and then jumping out of the bushes, yelling something like, “I saw you picking your nose even though you said you didn’t in the survey,” it’s not clear how many of the 15.5% who just said “no” to nose-picking actually did it. Or maybe some of them called nose-picking by another name such as “thinking.” Plus, an association does not necessarily mean cause-and-effect. Respondents who admitted to nose-picking may have been doing other things that made the more likely to catch the SARS-CoV-2. Finally, not to pick at the study, but results from a specific population at the Amsterdam UMC do not necessarily apply to everyone else.
Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that stretching out your nose with your fingers could help introduce the virus to your respiratory system. So you may want to more mindful of where your finger happens to be going and if you can’t keep it from going you-know-where how clean your finger is before and after you’ve done the deed.