Gruesome habit could increase risk of Covid infection, new study finds

Nose picking, which is also known as rhinotillexis, has long been regarded as a rather gruesome habit.

However, there is also a medical reason it should be avoided.

A new study revealed that healthcare workers guilty of rhinotillexis were more likely to catch Covid compared to those who didn’t.

The research, by a team of scientists in the Netherlands, was prompted by existing studies showing healthcare workers who had direct contact with Covid patients were also more at risk of infection.

Study co-author Dr Jonne Sikkens explained: “After that, we wanted to find out which factors predispose for infections within these groups, for instance touching your nose or even putting your finger inside of your nose.”

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As part of the research, which was published in journal Plos One, the team analysed data on 219 employees at Amsterdam University Medical Centres.

Of these participants, up to 85 percent reported habitually picking their nose, as often as daily to monthly.

And 33 percent regularly bit their nails and 67 percent wore glasses. Of 52 male workers, 16 had a beard.

Nose-pickers were more likely to be younger and male.

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The study said: “Doctors were the most frequent nose pickers (residents: 100 percent and specialists: 91 percent), followed by support staff (86 percent) and nurses (80 percent).”

Out of the 219 participants, 34 reported having tested positive for Covid by October 2020.

32 of these infections were among the 185 workers who picked their nose.

Scientists took into account whether the participants had come into close contact with a Covid patient, affecting how much PPE they had and their exposure to infection, and concluded that nose-pickers were three times more likely to become infected with Covid.

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The proportion of nose-pickers matched similar existing surveys on the general public, according to Sikkens.

So while the prevalence of nose-picking was not a surprise, the effect on infection rates was greater than expected.

The team theorised that the act of nose picking might directly introduce the Covid virus to the nose.

However, no association was found between the risk of infection and nail-biting or wearing glasses.

In the study the team noted that there were limitations including the fact it was carried out prior to the availability of vaccines and the rise of the Omicron strain.

As it was based on observational data, Sikkens added that it could not prove nose picking was the cause of higher rates of infection.

He said: “We cannot rule out for instance, that [healthcare workers who don’t nose pick] are more hygienic people overall, and that other factors have led to this finding.”

But the study said: “Explicit recommendations against nose-picking should be included in the same Sars-CoV-2 infection prevention guidelines.”

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