People are stocking up on disinfecting products — some of which claim to be effective against COVID-19 — but manufacturers haven’t actually tested those claims on the virus itself.
Purell said in a statement, that its surface disinfectant spray has “demonstrated effectiveness against a strain of human coronavirus.” COVID-19 belongs to the family of human coronaviruses.
Dave Macinga, vice president of product development and regulatory affairs at GOJO, the Akron, Ohio based company which owns Purell, said the company has “tested against a particular strain for surface disinfectant.”
He further said that Purell was proven in tests to kill Hepatitis A, which Macinga, who holds a PhD in molecular biology and microbiology, said is a “way more hardy virus” than coronavirus.
The company’s claim that it can protect against “a strain of human coronavirus” could be misconstrued by consumers who may purchase products to protect against the new coronavirus, COVID-19. GOJO tested the Purell spray against a more common form of coronavirus that is believed to be the source of colds; that is, not COVID-19.
In total, there are seven known forms of human coronavirus, which include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and COVID-19.
There were more than 95,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,200 deaths, primarily in China’s Hubei Province, according to a the latest tally published by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Centers for Systems Science and Engineering.
In the U.S., 11 people have died — 10 in Washington State and one in California — and there are more than 150 confirmed cases; 54 of those cases are in California, leading Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of that state, to follow Washington state and declare a state of emergency.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that COVID-19 appears to spread mainly via person-to-person contact but can also spread by touching a surface that has the virus on it.
Similar to Purell, Lysol, which is owned by Reckitt Benckiser RBGPF, +6.56%, and Proctor and Gamble PG, +5.35% are also claiming its products can be used against COVID-19 because of the EPA’s guidelines.
Lysol states on its site that “Specific Lysol products have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) on hard, non-porous surfaces.”
“In accordance with the EPA Viral Emerging Pathogen Policy,” it lists nine Lysol products which “can be used against 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) when used in accordance with the directions for use.”
A P&G spokeswoman, Mandy Ciccarella, also said that two of their products, Microban 24-Hour Bathroom Cleaner and Microban 24-Hour Multi-Purpose Cleaner, “have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to 2019 novel coronavirus on hard non-porous surfaces.” She said two products “can be used against 2019 novel coronavirus when used as a disinfectant in accordance with the directions for use against rotavirus on hard nonporous surfaces.”
Neither company responded to request for comment on whether they have tested their claims against COVID-19.
The EPA guidelines state: “Because the occurrence of emerging viral pathogens is less common and predictable than established pathogens, few if any EPA-registered disinfectant product labels specify use against these infectious agents. Also, the pathogens are often unavailable commercially and standard methods for laboratory testing may not exist.”
It adds: “Registrants with a pre-qualified emerging viral pathogen designation can include an efficacy statement in technical literature distributed to health care facilities, physicians, nurses, public health officials, non-label-related websites, consumer information services, and social media sites. Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product.”
The CDC posted on its site a link to all the COVID-19 approved cleaning products under the EPA’s guidelines. The list of over fives pages of cleaning products was complied by the American Chemistry Council’s Center for Biocide Chemistries.
The EPA’s guidelines do not apply to hand sanitizer products, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
In January, the FDA directed Purell’s parent company, GOJO Industries, to stop advertising its products as effective in preventing the flu and Ebola. The FDA said in a letter to the company that it “is currently not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies,” that demonstrate Purell’s ability to kill bacteria or viruses that cause the flu or Ebola.
Sales for sanitizer products were 73% higher from mid-January to Feb. 22 than they were at the same time last year, according to Nielsen NLSN, +1.54%
TouchFree Concepts, an online marketplace that supplies disinfecting products to businesses, schools and hospitals, has sold its entire inventory of Purell goods.
By Feb. 28, the TouchFree Concepts site sold out of every wall-mounted Purell dispensers. Two days later, both sites he runs sold out of every type of Purell product, including wipes, spray, mini containers, and pump refills. “The only thing we have left, which is flying off the shelf, are soap dispensers and refills,” Greenberg said.
This kind of surge in demand for these products is rare, Greenberg said. “The last time we came anywhere close was when the levees broke in New Orleans,” he said. Nonprofit organization and the government “were buying truckloads,” of sanitizing products then. Most of his recent orders, he said, came from businesses and individual consumers.
Regardless of these claims companies are making, it’s more important to consider how disinfecting products are used, said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center.
“We know from studies when people think they washed their hands they miss some spots,” she said. “The same applies to any product used to clean the surfaces.” For wipes to be most effective, she said you should wipe down an entire surface including any objects that touch it and let it dry.
While this can help contain the spread of coronavirus, “using the basic products, soap and water, to wash your hands works better than anything,” Bhadelia said.
Like Bhadelia, the CDC emphasizes the importance of washing hands with soap and water “for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.”
It also recommends people “clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.”
Separately, the Food and Drug Administration launched a task force to “monitor fraudulent COVID-19 prevention and treatment claims.”
“We have already reached out to major retailers to ask for their help in monitoring their online marketplaces for fraudulent products with coronavirus and other pathogen claims,” said Stephanie Caccomo, an FDA spokeswoman. “The task force has already worked with retailers to remove more than a dozen of these types of product listings online.”