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COVID-19: Low quality sanitisers aid virus to mutate – Experts

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Hand Sanitizer

With the approval of hand sanitisers by both international and local health organisations as one of the items that could be used to curb the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), some people have resorted to self-help, producing sanitisers in large quantities for themselves and for sale.

Although health organisations have come up with precautionary measures, including maintaining simple hygiene, frequent washing of hands with soap and water, avoiding the large crowd and observing social distancing, these traders are projecting the use of hand sanitisers as the best option, probably because of its portability.

Leveraging on the scarcity created by panic buying and others, these clandestine producers have concocted all manner of chemicals in the name of sanitisers and are selling to the gullible public, who eagerly buy them. These sanitisers come in different container sizes and with a sweet fragrance.

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Their prices vary, depending on the seller, packaging and place of purchase.

For obvious reasons, the producers do not often put their companies’ names, addresses and active ingredients, among others on the products’ labels. And in the few cases, they do, the percentage of the active ingredients used is usually missing.

To worsen matters, some of these sanitisers are harsh on the hands, leaving users with slight burns and blisters, although some others are okay.

Speaking with The Guardian on the effect of using substandard hand sanitisers, Pharmacist Jumoke Oni of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, said it is dangerous.

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She explained that aside burns and other harmful effects one may get from using these substandard products, low quality hand sanitisers do not effectively kill the virus. Rather, it adds to the problem of spreading the virus and other germs, as it would leave the user with the false belief that his/her hands are clean and free from germs or virus, as the case may be.

According to Oni, hand sanitisers are just to bridge the gap in the situation, where there is no running tap and soap to wash hands. And for double assurance, it is better to use clean water and soap, when one is not sure of the quality of the sanitiser.

She said: “Some people are currently producing these low-quality hand sanitisers for pecuniary gains, without minding the consequences on the users. The right-hand sanitiser that can fight the Coronavirus must contain 60 to 95 per cent ethanol or isopropanol. Hand sanitisers may not be the best to eliminate viruses or germs when hands are visibly greasy or dirty. So, in such situations, running tap water and soap are100 per cent safer.”

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But Dr. Lasis Olayebi, a private medical practitioner, was of the view that the government should check this practise and treat anybody producing low-quality hand sanitisers as saboteurs because they are not helping matters in checking.

According to him, such people are even doing more harm to society because they are not using the right materials for their products.

Olayebi decried the practice of Internet publishing how individuals could produce sanitisers, saying some people will read this and use the ingredients without knowing the right measures. And in a situation where they cannot find all the necessary ingredients, they use whatever they have.

He called on the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to closely observe the market and bring these producers, who are mostly small-scale producers, to book.

He disclosed that there are two types of hand sanitisers: the alcohol-based and the non-alcohol-based.

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He said: “The non-alcohol based sanitisers contain povidone-iodine (antiseptic), cleansing agents (benzalkonium chloride) or triclosan (antibacterial). The small-scale producers combine all these chemicals with perfume to give good scent when producing hand sanitiser. He observed that many people do not know the difference between these two types of hand sanitisers, as they just buy hand sanitisers off the shelf without bothering to know which is which.”

Olayebi explained that many imported hand sanitisers fall into this category, and called on Nigerians to look out for the necessary instruction on the label of sanitiser’s containers before buying or using.

He said: “ For Coronavirus, alcohol-based hand sanitisers would be ideal to fight the virus. This is so because to kill or denature a virus, at least 70 per cent of alcohol is required and since non-alcohol based sanitisers do not have such content, they become ineffective.”

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Emphasising on the use of water and soap, Olayebi noted that viruses are most effectively removed from the hands and killed with soap and water than with sanitisers, saying it is important to maintain hand hygiene and to consistently wash hands to be safe from any virus that would enter the body through the hand.

“Alcohol-based hand sanitisers kill viruses and certain bacteria but do not make the hands clean. Soap and water remove dirt and kills germs on our hands. Also, they physically remove viruses and bacteria on the skin,” he said.

Dr. Tunji Akintade, who doubles as Chairman, Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), Lagos State Chapter and Medical Director, Hamaab Medical Centre, Lagos, disclosed that any sanitiser that has less than 60 per cent alcoholic content is not likely to work and may even assist the virus to mutate.

He noted that such a situation would rather give the virus more strength, using an adaptive mechanism. As such, he called on Nigerians to always get sanitisers from the right sources — government centres, registered pharmacies or any other recognised sales outlets — to be safe from buying low-quality hand sanitisers.

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