Hand sanitiser versus soap and water, how best to fight coronavirus Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Hand sanitisers aren’t as effective as soap and water in the fight against coronavirus especially if they are not the right products and aren’t used properly, according to doctors who call upon UAE residents to stop stockpiling the hand rubs.

Dr Satyam Amrutlal Parmar, head of Pathology Department at RAK Hospital and Dr. Wael Faroug, consultant medical microbiologist at Kings College Hospital London in Dubai, said washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the best preventive measures against germs and the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, as recommended by the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hand rubs should be used only if soap and water is not accessible, they added.

Busting the myth that any sanitiser or wet wipe could help protect the user from Coronavirus, the doctors said only the sanitisers with at least 60 per cent or more of alcohol content (preferably 70 per cent) and other active medicinal ingredients such as Chlorhexidine, help kill the virus.

Residents have been reminded that hand sanitisers with no or less than 60 per cent alcohol content will not be effective.

Similarly, alcohol-free antibacterial skin and surface wipes are also ineffective against the virus, they said.

Hence, people should check the product label to ensure they are buying the right product.

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Dr Satyam Amrutlal Parmar Image Credit: Supplied

As such, alcohol-based hand rubs usually don’t kill all kinds of pathogens, said Dr. Parmar.

“Soap and water should be used when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy,” he added.

Just as washing hands with soap and water is effective only if you lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, under your nails and wrists, rubbing the right sanitiser should also be done the same way, for exactly the same time, at least 20 seconds.

Enough quantity of hand rub should also be used.

“If you take the gel covering at least two-thirds of your palm, it should be sufficient. If you are using very little quantity, it won’t serve the purpose,” said Dr. Parmar.

Drying hands with tissue paper after using a sanitiser is also a wrong practice, whereas doing the same after washing with soap and water is recommended.

“Sanitiser works by killing the membrane of the bacteria. We should allow the gel to dry completely and give it time to act on the pathogens. Otherwise, there is no use.”

Soap lifts the dirt and germs from the skin and the water washes them away. Moist hands can catch germs. Hence, Dr. Parman recommended drying hands with a paper napkin and using the same for closing the faucet to avoid contamination from the tap.

How often should you sanitise your hands?

Sanitisers can protect you if used correctly. But that doesn’t mean you need to keep rubbing them on your palms unnecessarily.

It doesn’t work like touch and leave and repeat, said Dr. Faroug.

He said there is no point if one uses just a little of amount of sanitiser and keeps doing that without providing attention to rubbing them all over the palms for the recommended duration.

He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended “five moments of hand hygiene” for healthcare workers.

“We healthcare workers might be required to wash or sanitise our hands 300 to 400 times a day as we are at higher risk of exposure to infection. The general public don’t have to do it,” said Dr. Faroug.

To prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, CDC has recommended the general public to wash hands (or use sanitiser if soap and water is not available) often, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing.

In the wake of the spread of Covid-19, Dr. Faroug said, people should wash or sanitise their hands after coming into contact with people with respiratory symptoms, touching surfaces that are likely to have been exposed to the virus, shaking hands with people or after leaving public transport.

“You don’t have to keep cleaning your hands if you are not going out and doing nothing at home.”

Are there any side effects?

Though there are no serious side effects reported, frequent sanitisers may cause skin allergies to people with sensitive skin.

“Some people develop dry skin by using soap. It can happen with sanitisers also. That is why healthcare workers generally use lotions after washing or sanitising hands and drying them,” said Dr. Faroug.

According to the CDC, swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitisers can cause alcohol poisoning if more than a couple of mouthfuls are swallowed.

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Dr Wael Faroug Image Credit: Supplied

In 2013, a six-year-old Tunisian boy in Ajman was blinded in one eye reportedly due to accidental chemical burn caused by a sanitiser.

The doctors said parents should keep sanitisers out of reach of young children and supervise their use.

They also advised against bulk buying of hand sanitisers.

“Don’t go about buying hand sanitizers in bulk,” said Dr. Faroug.

“If some start overbuying it, it will lead to shortage for others. We need to buy only as per our requirement,” he advised residents.

Retailers ration supply, ensure stock in UAE market
Some major retailers in the UAE said they are rationing supply and ensuring enough stock of hand sanitisers in the UAE market.

“The demand for hand sanitiser and similar products is surging, prompting Union Coop to ration supplies and take necessary steps to ensure smooth shopping experience for the consumers,” Union Coop said in a press release.

Dr. Suhail Al Bastaki, director of Happiness and Marketing Department, Union Coop, said the chain has a strategic stock of these materials, and meetings were held last month with suppliers and factories to ensure the continued availability of goods and products.

Al Bastaki assured the consumers that Union Coop is taking every step to curb malpractices such as price tampering.

Shamim Sainulabdeen, head of Lulu’s product development department, told Gulf News that the retail chain has procured additional stocks of hand sanitisers and other hygiene and cleaning products which have become more in demand now.

He said the group also started a promotion of 600ml sanitiser of its own brand.

“To help meet the customer requirement, we are selling them for less than Dh20 whereas some popular brands cost around Dh25 for their 250ml bottles. However, a quota of up to four bottles has been allowed per customer to avoid bulk buying by individuals and smaller shops which can lead to shortage.”