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Reader’s Dermatitis Trigger More Likely Stress Than Sanitizer

DEAR DR. ROACH: Like everyone, I have been using a lot of hand sanitizer and a lot of disinfecting wipes throughout the day. Do these sanitizing products get absorbed through the skin and build up in our bodies? I ask because I have come down with a difficult case of seborrheic dermatitis on my face, though I don’t use any of these products on my face. My facial skin has always been hypersensitive, so I was thinking, if this is my weak spot, maybe the ill effects of the sanitizers and disinfecting wipes would show up there. — A.H.

ANSWER: Hand sanitizers use alcohol to kill bacteria and disable viruses. The alcohols used in approved sanitizers are not well absorbed through the skin, but if they were, your body is able to metabolize the small amounts that come through.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition. Although its cause is not well-understood, it is clearly triggered by stress in many people. Since many of us are stressed from work changes and from dramatic changes to our social interactions, I think it’s more likely to be related to stress than to hand sanitizer use. Any dry skin can cause problems, so using some hand lotion might help.

DEAR DR. ROACH: Are there different antibody tests for the West Coast and East Coast types of virus? We’ve read that as COVID traveled through Europe, it mutated slightly before it got to New York, but the California version came straight from China. I had an antibody test on Cape Cod six months after being very sick with a COVID-like virus (not flu) in San Francisco in early December. Scientists now believe that COVID may have been in California as early as November (through Silicon Valley residents who frequently travel to Wuhan). My negative result may be because it was done too late, when any antibodies were mostly gone, or possibly it wasn’t COVID. Could it also be that my test wasn’t accurate for the West Coast mutation? — S.K.

ANSWER: The SARS-CoV-2 virus, like all viruses, creates a huge number of replicas of itself when it infects a person. However, the enzyme used to replicate the virus is not perfect, and there are small numbers of errors during viral replication. These are technically known as mutations, and scientists can track how the virus has spread using these mutations.

The differences are very slight, and so far, there have been no major changes in how dangerous the virus is, whether it might be susceptible to certain antiviral treatments or whether it would turn a blood test positive. Well over 99% of the viral RNA (coronaviruses use RNA, not DNA, for their genetic material) is identical among the strains of SARS-CoV-2 that have been sequenced. Many areas are unchanged in any of the thousands of strains sequenced. It is possible that a strain will arise that may not be as well detected on blood antibody testing, but as of the time of this writing, none has been identified.

Your reasons for a negative SARS-CoV-2 antibody test are much more likely than it being a new strain that doesn’t show up on testing.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

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