There's no need to use disinfectant to protect yourself from being infected by the novel coronavirus if you have access to running water and soap as regularly washing your hands is more than sufficient, according to health experts.
"The new coronavirus is a virus that can be easily rubbed off your hands by thoroughly washing them," says Dr. Iris Chaberny, director of the Institute of Hygiene at Leipzig University Hospital in Germany. "So for the vast majority of people, it's unnecessary to stock up on disinfectant."
Not only is it unnecessary, but a shortage can also be dangerous to people who are seriously ill and to the health care sector as a whole.
"Disinfectants are urgently needed elsewhere – medical personnel need them, not necessarily because of the coronavirus, but to fight other pathogens and because things have to be done quickly in everyday hospital practice," says Chaberny, explaining there's not always time for thorough handwashing in hospitals.
There are also people for whom protection against pathogens is critical at home – cancer patients after chemotherapy, for example. "It would be truly disastrous if there wasn't any more disinfectant" because it's sold out in shops, remarked Chaberny.
Shortages and buying limits imposed on disinfectants have spurred people to make their own hand sanitizers using unproven recipes from Reddit, Pinterest and blogs. Not only do most not have the correct ratio of ingredients but most also tout the use of dyes, essential oils or other fragrances to mask the smell of alcohol or based on claims that they have "virus-killing" properties. Doctors warn that these can cause an allergic response and severe reactions, especially in people with sensitive skin.
Chaberny warned people not to follow instructions for self-mixed disinfectants circulating online. For one thing, disinfection is superfluous and can make people neglect proper handwashing.
What's more, it can be dangerous if there are no moisturizing substances in the do-it-yourself mixture. "Then your hands dry out and become cracked, making them even more susceptible to pathogens," Chaberny said. There is a reason such products go through rigorous testing to determine whether they are safe for human skin.
Likewise, if not enough alcohol is used, the final product won't be nearly as effective as store-bought hand sanitizer.
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