Viruses – what are they, and why are they a threat?

31 May 2023

A look at how to stop the spread of harmful microorganisms.

The air all around us is full of microorganisms. In fact, research suggests that the air we breathe every day is teeming with over 1,800 different types of bacteria, spores and other pathogens.

Most of these microbes are completely harmless and don't have any impact on our health at all. However, there are pathogens that professionals need to be aware of, especially in environments such as dental practices where there is a high footfall and ample opportunities for illnesses to spread. Among these are viruses.

What are enveloped and non-enveloped viruses?

There are many different classes of viruses in our world, all of which have their own unique characteristics. One of the most well-known distinctions between virus types is whether they are enveloped or non-enveloped.

Enveloped viruses feature an outer protective lipid membrane as part of their structure, and are typically less virulent than non-enveloped viruses. This isn’t to mean that they aren’t a concern, however, and some examples are influenza, HIV and human coronaviruses, including Coronavirus.

Non-enveloped viruses (sometimes referred to as naked viruses) differ in structure, and while they don’t have a lipid membrane, they may have other protective defences. This structure actually ensures they are more infectious. Additionally, non-enveloped viruses have been found to be more resilient against high temperatures, extreme pH, dryness and generic cleaning solutions.

Norovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus and rhinovirus (the common cold) are all non-enveloped viruses. While these viruses typically lead to mild illnesses, they may also result in serious complications, especially among the most vulnerable.

Why are viruses such a concern?

What makes viruses such a challenge in healthcare settings is their resilience and ability to spread. Depending on their structure, they may quickly infect multiple individuals, making patients sick and spreading among members of staff, which could even lead to downtime for the practice if colleagues are unable to work.

Plus, their ability to survive against infection control solutions is concerning. For instance, many people have integrated hand sanitiser stations into their practices, but did you know that hand sanitiser can be ineffective against viruses such as norovirus if it doesn’t have the right ingredients? As such, it’s important to consider the cleaning products and other hygiene solutions you’re using in practice, especially if you want to defend against all types of viruses.

What to look for in cleaning solutions

With so many cleaning solutions and hand hygiene products on the market, it can be difficult to know which will safeguard your staff and patients best. One good place to start is to look at how effective products are at deactivating or eliminating pathogens - ideally, you want a product with a kill rate of at least 99.99 per cent.

Additionally, you should think about how versatile your cleaning solutions are and whether they can be used across multiple surfaces and hands. Viruses are adaptable, and the characteristics of the surfaces they colonise can impact how long they survive on them. Their individual structure will also dictate how long they survive outside the body. For instance, HIV loses its ability to infect others typically within a few hours, whereas norovirus can linger and remain infectious on surfaces for months. You also need to consider the hand hygiene products you have in place and whether they are as effective as possible.

With UltraProtect Hand Sanitiser from Initial Medical, you can help ensure gold-standard hand hygiene in your setting. This solution removes 99.99 per cent of pathogens and has been specially formulated to be kind to skin, making it ideal for repeated use. As an added benefit, UltraProtect Hand Sanitiser offers up to eight hours of protection. It can also effectively eliminate viruses that some other hand sanitisers are unable to, including norovirus, MRSA and Coronavirus.

Don’t let viruses disrupt your care 

Viruses come in many forms, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t defend against them. By understanding the difference between certain viruses and ensuring your hand hygiene products can effectively eliminate them, you can create a safe environment for staff and patients alike.


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References available on request.