Angela Ballard knows sweat. She is an educator and advocate of hyperhidrosis, in which the sweat glands produce more sweat than usual. She’s also a wife and mother.
“I live in a family of four; my husband is a front line health care provider; our children, like most in the country, have been home since March. Social interactions are limited. Without outdoor exercise — walks, runs, hikes, bike rides — the mood in our house would be a lot worse,” says Ballard, a registered nurse and communications director with the International Hyperhidrosis Society in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Exercise and working up a sweat are so important for staying healthy in body and mind. I personally need exercise to help me stay balanced and to help me relieve stress. I can’t imagine going through these very unsettling times without exercising. That said, whether your exercise of choice is safe or not depends on how and where you do it,” she adds.
The novel coronavirus pandemic is leading millions of Americans to rethink the ways that they live their everyday lives and, yes, how they exercise. But is it still considered safe to break a sweat during the COVID-19 crisis, and can sweat transmit the virus?
To sweat or not to sweat?
Of course, there is still so much that is unknown about COVID-19, Ballard says. This is still a new virus, and there is a lot to learn.
“But thinking about what we do know, the chance of getting infected because of sweat seems really low to me,” she says. “There are a few reasons why I think this — first, there’s no evidence that the virus is emitted from the body in sweat. Rather, it comes out of the human body via tiny droplets from the respiratory tract — from the nose and mouth with coughing, sneezing, talking, singing and, perhaps, breathing.”
There is also another really interesting theory, according to Ballard. Believe it or not, sweat may actually help prevent some infections — including infections from COVID-19.
“Sweat has some natural antimicrobial qualities,” she says. “It has nitrate in it, which becomes acidified when it lands on the skin and makes nitric oxide — which is antimicrobial to some degree.”
Tony Abate, vice president and chief technical officer at AtmosAir Solutions, headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, agrees.
“Coronavirus cannot be transmitted by sweat,” says Abate, who is also an expert on airborne transmission of viruses and a certified indoor environmentalist as designated by the Indoor Air Quality Association and the American Air Quality Council. “Sweating comes from the pores. COVID-19 can be transmitted by nasal, oral or fecal discharge.”
When it comes to exercising and perspiring during the pandemic, Abate says the focus shouldn’t be on sweating but more so on breathing, since the spreading of respiratory droplets is the more likely way for the coronavirus to transmit.
“The sweating is not the issue, but the increased respiration from working out can lead to more possibility of aerosolized droplets being expelled that can infect surfaces and spread through the air and lead to direct contact infection,” he says.
For avid gymgoers and people who do activities that make them sweat or perform other types of sweat-intensive physical work in their jobs, Ballard and Abate offer some common tips to stay safe and avoid contracting COVID-19.
Abate says to maintain social distance when possible, and direct traffic patterns in gyms to avoid close proximity to others who are working out.
“When in the bathroom, put the seat cover down before flushing,” Abate says. “Have readily available hand sanitizer dispensers. Wipe down disinfecting of equipment and machines after each use and have enhanced facility-surface disinfection with EPA-registered disinfectant cleaners.”
Ballard says the most important considerations are still the same and haven’t changed. These include wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible, not touching the face when wearing a mask, washing hands often, and avoiding crowded places.
“If you must be inside for work and you are sweating, you still need to wear a mask,” Ballard adds. “If my job was indoors and sweaty, I’d be sure to bring extra masks with me, so I could change them often when they become damp or soiled.”
“Wash them when you get home at the end of the day. I’d also bring small, clean towels, so I could dry sweat on my face — to help me avoid touching my face. Again, wash those at the end of the day.”