Governments and health organisations around the world are rushing to dismiss fears of a superbug ‘armageddon’ that one expert is predicting could be caused by excessive use of hand gel.
The claim was made by Dr Andrew Kemp, head of the Scientific Advisory Board on the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICS), who is scheduled to explain his concept at the International Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance conference in Amsterdam.
His theory is based on what he considers the public’s over-reliance on using hand sanitiser instead of hand washing.
“Hand gels should only be used as a last resort and as a short term temporary measure or stop gap if soap and water are not available,” he explained in an interview with the British tabloid The Mirror.
However, his opinions are also based on a lack of concrete scientific evidence that hand sanitiser is effective against coronavirus.
“We do not know if any hand sanitisers or disinfectants have actually been tested against COVID-19, so no one can say theirs does work. We can all make assumptions based on tests to similar viruses, but that is simply not good enough…” he said.
“At the moment there is no published proof that alcohol gels killed Covid-19 itself. Even if they did kill 99.9 percent of all bacteria, there can be more than a million bacteria on your hands at any one time leaving 10,000 alive after sanitisation.” Adding that ultimately, this means that, “…our routine use of gels could ultimately cause us more harm than good.”
In response to these claims, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is steadfast in its message that hand sanitisers remain an important tool for staying healthy, albeit that they should be used only, “…if you don't have immediate access to soap and water”.
Hand washing for at least 20 seconds, ensuring you use enough soap to cover your hands and using the towel to turn the tap off when hand washing is completed, is the best route to cleanliness.
A point reiterated by a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Health, who said that, “The most effective means of preventing the spread of this virus remains to stay alert, follow social distancing rules, wash your hands regularly and wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces.”
However, perhaps of highest significance is the reassuring advice that Dr Kemp gives for staying healthy, stating that, “Remember, you come into contact with viruses every day of your lives, your immune system fights them off, so you don’t even realise it most of the time.”
He even recommends ways to avoid sickness even when there is no pandemic to worry about. “Keep yourselves healthy, [with] good diet and exercise to keep your immune system in peak condition,” he says. “It is the best defence we all have.”
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