Prof. Douglas Boateng’s thoughts …Could wigs and synthetic hair extensions be safe havens for this cunning and elusive coronavirus? Judge for yourself


On 17 March 2020, it was reported that a study from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University revealed that SAR-COV-2 (i.e. coronavirus) was stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces.

Specifically, the study found that the virus was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. This study shows that people may be acquiring the virus through the air, and after touching contaminated objects or surfaces.

While stability of the virus on general surfaces has been examined, little information is available on the virus’s ability to survive on wigs and synthetic hair extensions. There are currently hundreds of millions of wigs and hair extension pieces in use every day in Africa and around the globe.

Dr. Adam Friedman, the interim chair of dermatology at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has revealed that these synthetic wigs and hair extensions which are taken off daily after use are different from natural hair, and do not have the natural oils and sometimes antimicrobial protection that natural hair gets from permanent attachment to the scalp.

Could this lethal coronavirus beast also settle and survive on artificial wigs and hair extension surfaces waiting to pounce?

Dr. Friedman postulates that depending on circumstances of the hair, the coronavirus could survive on its surface. However, according to Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, scientific research on whether the surface of wigs and hair extensions can harbour this elusive virus and for how long is yet to be done. While ‘theoretically’ SAR-COV-2 could be passed from hair to hands to mucosa, Dr. Saad says there is currently no research to back this notion.

There is still a lot unknown about this very sneaky virus. Almost every day new material is revealed about SAR-COV-2. Most of this information has to do with potential ways to understand as well as contain the spread of this highly contagious microorganism.

The big question is whether through rational thinking, ‘extra’ precautionary measures should, at least for now, be taken by wig-wearers and hair extension users.

While users of these products wait for European, Asian, American and/or our relatively underfunded African scientists to conduct research to prove or reject the highly plausible notion that wigs and hair extensions could possibly be safe havens for the coronavirus, it may be worthwhile for both female and male users of wigs and synthetic hair to seriously consider practicing additional simple decontamination measures.

These could include less patting of the wig and hair extension when worn; washing and sanitising hands any time they touch their wigs or hair extensions; regularly washing wigs and hair extensions with antibacterial shampoo to prevent any matter from settling on those porous surfaces and; and disinfecting hair mannequins and other storage areas for wigs and hair-pieces.

As at May 21, recorded infections (6,269) as a percentage of Ghana’s total population remains below 0.02 percent. Of these documented infections, the 8 cases or roughly 0.00003 percent of the total population were deemed serious or critical cases; the over 31 COVID-19 unfortunate fatalities as a percentage of the over six thousand known infections was 0.49 percent.

This is well below global and African mortality benchmarks of around 6.48 percent and 3.1 percentrespectively. The over-1,898 recovered cases as a percentage of documented infections was 30.28 percentand rapidly inching toward the global and African benchmarks of 39.75 percent and 40.6 percent respectively.Serious critical cases as a percentage of the recorded infections is approximately 0.13 percent.

Worldwide serious critical cases as a percentage of the recorded global and African infections were approximately 0.9 percent and 0.3 percent respectively and improving.

A majority of the informed population has now unhappily acceded to the fact that SAR-COV-2 is here to stay for a while. However, through science and engineering, self-discipline, rationality and commonsense, adherence to proven and adaptable guidelines – including WHO recommended guidelines to regularly wash and sanitise hands, improve personal hygiene, clean surfaces, wear face masks, and social distance, etc. – humans will again adjust to co-exist with this very cunning and elusive beast.

>>>the author is an international chartered director and Africa’s first-ever appointed Professor Extraordinaire for Industrialisation and Supply Chain Governance.  

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