A coronavirus-fuelled run on hand sanitiser is leaving those who rely on the product due to compromised immune systems fearful for their health.
The disease, which has spread from Wuhan in China to countries across the world with nearly 90,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths globally, can be spread via small droplets from the nose or mouth as people cough or exhale.
Thorough hand-washing is the primary advice from Public Health England (PHE) to thwart the virus, though alcohol-based hand sanitisers that contain at least 60% alcohol are recommended if soap and water aren’t available.
The advice has seen a sharp spike in the sale of hand sanitisers, with many shops left with bare shelves and some opting to ration sales.
But for those who rely on the product for everyday use while out and about, the matter is causing concern.
Kirsty Jeffery’s mother has been in kidney failure since September last year and uses hand sanitiser on a daily basis to protect herself.
The 57-year-old is taking six types of immunosuppressant medication similar to chemotherapy a day to prevent her immune system from attacking her kidneys. Because her immune system is now so weak, she has felt unable to attend her part-time job as an insurance clerk due to the coronavirus risk.
Now due to stockpiling, neither mother nor daughter have been able to buy any hand sanitiser at either high street pharmacies or independent stores.
Kirsty told HuffPost UK: “It’s something so trivial and she feels she can’t leave the house because of it, it’s awful. It’s this sense of panic-buying when health advisors have just said ‘wash your hands, regularly.’
“There’s just no need for it. You don’t need it. Just wash your hands. It’s like when people panic-buy bread and milk, it’s going to be there in a couple of days. There’s no need for it.
“I remember when there were petrol shortages about four or five years ago, everyone was panic-buying petrol when there was just no need to. I can’t get into the mentality of a panic-buyer’s mind.”
Kirsty, 35, is so concerned she is considering asking her own employers if she can offer a large bottle of hand-sanitiser in her office to her mother.
She added: “People online have piped up ‘How dare you have a go at people trying to look after their health’, no, you’ve missed the point, you don’t need it. My mum is suffering and she can’t leave the house because of this.
“Something needs to come from the government. I think the government has been too silent about this.”
Others have also revealed how the shortage has affected them. One Twitter user wrote: “I’m really quite cross. I’ve been using hand sanitiser for 10yrs because a simple cough/cold can wipe me out for weeks, or end up in hospital with a life threatening adrenal crisis. I’ve got numerous problems with my health & I’m immunosuppressed.
“This is the 1st time I’ve not been able to pick some up with my shopping so my neighbour went looking for some & tried 8 shops. They’re all out! Perfectly healthy people mass buying it have put me at risk.”
Others have shared similar experiences and complained that some retailers are over-charging for the stock they do have.
While PHE stresses there is “no need” to bulk buy the item in light of current events, and that maintaining careful handwashing habits with soap and water is adequate, it was unable to offer advice for immunosuppressed individuals who rely on the product for everyday use – referring HuffPost UK to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Confusingly, that body referred the matter back to PHE. It also recommended we ask the NHS, which had yet to comment at the time of publication.
Initial symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
More severe cases can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, sepsis and septic shock, which can lead to death.
There are no specific treatments or vaccines for a new coronavirus but symptoms can be treated.
The UK government says based on current evidence most cases appear to be mild and those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions. It acknowledges that those who are immunosuppressed are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The World Health Organisation has said about four in five people who contract the virus get mild symptoms and recover.
But it added older people or patients with pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes are more at risk of developing serious illness.
Meanwhile, global hygiene business Rentokil has said it has enough hand sanitiser to meet “strong” demand sparked by the coronavirus, but that stocks of its products may only last for the next few months.
The business said that it is closely monitoring the situation, as it hopes the Chinese factories that supply it can get up and running again before the supplies run out. Many Chinese factories are still shut, after they were initially meant to close for only 10 days in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
It said it also buys products manufactured in the UK and Malaysia, where factories remain open.
Have you been affected by this? Email Sara Nelson on email@example.com.