Pharmacies say they have seen a spike in sales of hand sanitisers and more demand for face masks in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
While virologists say hand sanitising can help stop the virus, they say there is not much evidence that face masks help.
Hand washing with soap is still the best cleaning practice, says the NHS.
Nonetheless, some online shops show a shortage of sanitiser and some stores are saying they don’t stock masks.
“We have definitely seen an increase in sales of Boots Anti-Viral hand foam and hand sanitisers but there is still good stock availability in stores and online,” Boots said in a statement.
“Some sizes of hand sanitisers might be temporarily out of stock but other sizes are in stock.”
Ian Anderson, director of marketing at Nice Pak International, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of hand wipes, including the Sani Hands brand, said his firm’s sales are up.
“At the moment we are trying to work out how best we can respond to that and in terms of supply chain management making sure we can access sufficient raw materials to keep pace with it – we are identifying how we can keep up with demand,” he told the BBC. The firm has two factories in the UK and one in Germany.
Dorset-based medical supplies firm MediSupplies told customers on its website: “Due to the current high volume of face masks orders, we are unable to offer any face masks at this time.” It advised customers to wash their hands and consider disinfectant wipes, sprays and gloves.
The Tesco and Morrisons websites are showing that some cleansing gels are out of stock.
The supermarkets declined to comment on sales.
“We know that in a hospital setting surgical masks are very effective and that’s because the people using them are trained in their use,” said Jonathan Ball, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham.
The mask must be properly fitted for it to filter all incoming air, he said. Users must also avoid cross contamination when taking it off, not wear them for too long and not meddle with them.
In a hospital, a doctor or nurse treating an infected patient might wear a gown, gloves, goggles and a mask, changing all of these once their time with the patient is over, he said. This isn’t practical outside a hospital.
In the wider world “the consensus is it doesn’t work,” he said.
Instead, detergents, including soap, and disinfectants are “generally effective” against this kind of virus, he said.
Viruses similar to the structure of coronavirus are sensitive to alcohol and detergents, which can help break down their oily, fatty shells.
“Because sanitisers on the whole have alcohol, it does the same thing, breaks apart the virus particle,” although there’s evidence they are only effective when applied to a relatively clean surface, he warns. For muddy hands, soap and water are best.
The NHS says the best way to avoid catching viruses such as flu is to:
- regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap
- avoid touching your eyes and nose wherever possible
- maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle