Even covid picks on the pickers

3 minute read

Yes, it is a disgusting habit and it will make you sick.

One of your Back Page scribbler’s favourite episodes of the long-running TV series Seinfeld is one where the titular character Jerry is caught unawares by his new girlfriend in the act of seemingly picking his nose.

Despite his protestations that this was not as it seemed, the ensuing social opprobrium is so great the relationship is over before it really begins.

As it transpires, the act of nose-picking, or rhinotillexis to give it its fancy name, has additional hazards beyond diminishing one’s prospects of success in the mating game.

We have Dutch researchers to thank for a study which reveals that regular digital-nasal excavations will also increase the chances of the picker catching covid.

Published today in the journal, PLOS ONE, our boffins surveyed more than 200 healthcare workers at the beginning of the pandemic, asking them about their nose-picking behaviours. What they found was that over a six-month period, 17% of nose-pickers caught covid compared with 5.9% of those who refrained from probing their proboscides.

Almost 85% of participants reported habitually picking their nose with a frequency ranging from daily to monthly, with doctors proving to be the most frequent nose pickers, the researchers wrote.

Overall, 34 of the 219 participants reported having contracted covid by October 2020, according to PCR or antibody tests; 32 of the infections were among the 185 participants who picked their nose.

The risk was relatively the same for all nose pickers, the researchers said, regardless of how often they did it.

“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,” Dr Jonne Sikkens, a co-author of the study, told media.

The researchers said nose-picking might directly introduce the virus to the nose, adding that the behaviour might be an underestimated cause of covid transmission between healthcare workers.

But our investigators didn’t just pick on the pickers. They also looked at other behaviours and physical features, such as wearing glasses, biting fingernails, or having a beard, and measured the impact of those traits against the propensity to succumbing to the Rona.

The results for those factors can best be summed up as: yeah, nah. The weak of sight, the hairy-chinned and the nail-biters in the survey apparently had no greater chance of catching the virus than regular folks. 

So the finger is firmly pointed at the nose-picking as the key factor in possible covid transmission.

But given that the study was based on observational data, it could not actually prove that was rhinotillexis behind the higher infection rates.

“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,” Dr Sikkens said.

However, the research team said their findings suggested nose-picking deserved more consideration as a potential health hazard.

“Explicit recommendations against nose-picking should be included in the same SARS-CoV-2 infection prevention guidelines,” the authors wrote.

So, if you needed to make a case against nose-picking that goes beyond “don’t do it because it’s gross”, then this study provides some pretty compelling evidence.   

But we will leave the last word to another Seinfeld character, George Costanza, who defended the practice thus: “I guarantee you that Moses was a picker. You wander through the desert for 40 years with that dry air. You telling me you’re not going to have occasion to clean house a little bit?”

Sending story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au is twice as effective as a covid vaccine.

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