Wash the Hands! Wash the Nose?

by Tim Keim

Since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve been admonished to wash our hands to prevent picking up the coronavirus. General cleanliness has been good advice for thousands of years and even has its own aphorism: Cleanliness is next to Godliness. However, like so much conventional wisdom, advice to wash the hands is woefully inadequate. The main reservoir of viral concentration is not the hands, but in the nose! So, why haven’t our public health officials promoted nasal washing? That is a puzzle.

The coronavirus becomes aerosolized from the nasal passages of asymptomatic or symptomatic persons whether they are vaccinated or not. Both those with and without the shot can easily carry and transmit the dominant Delta variant of the virus. Recent studies demonstrate infectivity and transmission from the vaccinated. “We’re the first to demonstrate, as far as I’m aware, that infectious viruses can be cultured from the fully-vaccinated,” says Kasen Riemersma, a virologist at University of Wisconsin, one of the authors of a study.

The question then becomes is there enough virus in the vaccinated to infect others and is it just as infectious as the samples taken from the unvaccinated? In the above study, the nasal swabs of 719 Deltavariant positive patients were analyzed. The results found that 68% of the vaccinated so-called breakthrough cases had “very high viral loads.” The Delta variant detected was infectious in nearly everyone: from 88 percent of unvaccinated individuals and 95 percent of vaccinated people. The vaccinated were actually more infectious by a seven point margin!

One of the problems with this concentration of viral load in the upper airways and nasal passages is that the immune system does not deploy high levels of antibodies to this part of the anatomy.

A study from Oxford University Clinical Research Group Aug. 10 in The Lancet (Transmission of SARSCoV-2 Delta Variant Among Vaccinated Healthcare Workers) found that while the jab moderates symptoms of infection, it also allows vaccinated individuals to carry extremely high viral loads without becoming ill, potentially transforming them into asymptomatic superspreaders. There is a simple and elegant solution that could well have an enormous public health impact: nasal washing. This technique has been used for over a thousand years in Ayurveda, the medical system of yoga.

The Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that “Given the safety profile of these therapies, HS (hypertonic saline) nasal irrigations should be encouraged for patients and health care workers especially.” ( Benefits and Safety of Nasal Saline Irrigations in a Pandemic—Washing COVID-19 Away | Infectious Diseases | JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery | JAMA Network) But to stop asymptomatic spread, I would recommend this to just about everyone who wants to make sure that they are doing everything possible to avoid potential transmission of the coronavirus whether vaccinated or not.

Since my early Ayurvedic training, I was taught this easy, inexpensive technique and use it frequently.

You only need one piece of equipment to practice nasal irrigation or neti as it’s called in Ayurveda: A Neti Pot. You can find them online or at your local drug store. I prefer the ceramic models, but they also come in plastic. I make up a pint of boiled, purified water with ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the solution into a freshly sanitized neti pot about 8 oz at a time. Make sure the water is about body temp. Test the water temperature with your finger to make sure it will be comfortable to your tender nasal passages.

Some people find using a Neti Pot a bit tricky, but with a little practice you’ll be a pro in no time.

Standing over a sink, lower and turn your head to one side. Insert the spout of the Neti Pot into a nostril and slowly pour the water into your nose. The warm salty water will enter that nostril, rinsing out mucous and viral debris and exit out the other nostril. Then do the other side.

I also add a pinch of organic dry, ground turmeric to my solution because this plant medicine has proven antiviral activity and I find it’s well tolerated by the nasal passages.

After nasal cleansing, apply some ghee (clarified butter) or medicated oil drops (nasya) into the nose to prevent dryness. This nourishes and protects the nasal tissue, nourishes the brain and helps prevent infection.

This simple solution gives us another vital tool to end this pandemic.

Tim Keim is an IAYT Certified Yoga Therapist and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. Reach him at