Picking your nose raises your risk of catching COVID, study suggests

Picking your nose raises your risk of catching COVID, study suggests

  • Scientists in the Netherlands say that nose picking can raise the risk of infection
  • They suggest that this can introduce the virus to the nasal tract sparking illness
  • READ MORE: What is behind America’s surge in Covid hospitalizations? 

It is already a disgusting habit. But now scientists say picking your nose could raise your risk of catching Covid too.

A study of healthcare workers in the Netherlands found nose pickers were nearly three times more likely to catch the virus than those who avoided the habit. 

Of all participants, those who picked their nose daily or weekly were most likely to get an infection.

One in five nose pickers tested positive for the virus during the seven-month study overall, they said, compared to less than one in 20 among those who did not.

Researchers suggested nose picking puts someone at higher risk of infection because it ‘facilitates’ the transfer of the virus from hands to the nasal canal.

The above graph shows the proportion of people who rested positive for Covid in the nose picker and non-nose picker group. Nose pickers were nearly three times more likely to be infected

What’s behind recent Covid-19 surge in US? 

Experts say the uptick may be down to the natural waning of immunity, which happens around six months after the previous wave of infections.

Covid spreads mainly via droplets expelled when someone coughs or sneezes.

These are breathed in by others sparking an infection in the upper respiratory tract — including the nose — and causing illness.

But should someone already have the virus on their fingers and then put them in their nose, the scientists suggested this could also spread the virus.

Studies suggest Covid can survive for 28 days on surfaces at ambient temperatures, raising the risk of it being picked up. 

For the study, published today in PLOS One, researchers recruited 404 healthcare workers from two university medical centers in the Netherlands.

Medical workers in the study ranged from doctors to support staff and nurses. 

They were tracked from March to October 2020 with each reporting whether they had tested positive for Covid during this time.

The participants were tracked for Covid infections in 2020 but not asked whether they picked their nose until 2021. 

At the time there were Covid control measures present on wards including social distancing of 1.5-meters, PPE and separating Covid and non-Covid patients.

Data showed that over the study period, 34 out of the 185 nose pickers tested positive for Covid (18 percent).

Of these, 12 reported picking their nose weekly (35 percent), 11 reported this habit daily (32 percent) and nine (27 percent) reported doing this monthly. 

For comparison, among those who did not pick their noses two out of 34 (five percent) tested positive.

The scientists also looked at other factors such as biting nails, wearing glasses or having a beard.

But there was no sign that workers with these were more likely to become infected with Covid.

Results were adjusted for whether the medical professional had worked in Covid patient care and if they had direct contaact with a co-worker with an infection.

In the conclusion, they wrote: ‘This is the first study that shows that nose picking by health care workers is associated with an increased risk of contracting Covid.

‘It is commendable we assume health care workers to not portray bad habits, yet we too are only human after all.’

They added: ‘It is surprising to observe the extensiveness in which the scientific community (including our own study team) has researched all sorts of SARS-CoV-2 transmission routes… yet assessing the role of simple behavioral and physical properties has so far being overlooked.’

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