National / Science & Health

Too much washing and sanitizer could raise risk from other viruses

Some medical experts have started to warn that the overuse of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to protect against the coronavirus could inversely raise the risk of infection via skin disorders.

Washing one’s hands too many times can also have an adverse effect by abrading the skin, which normally acts as a barrier to keep moisture in and harmful agents out.

Overdoing both to avoid the pneumonia-causing virus may remove benign bacteria on the skin that normally fend off such pathogens as the norovirus.

“Of course, it is necessary to wash hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in order to reduce transmission of the new virus, but overdoing anything is not good,” said a spokeswoman for chemicals and cosmetics maker Kao Corp.

In Tokyo, hand sanitizers have sold out at pharmacies and convenience stores amid advice from health care experts to use the same preventive steps against the coronavirus as used against the flu and colds.

Indeed, flu season is ending significantly faster compared with last year, government data showed last month. For the week through Feb. 16, reported influenza cases plummeted around 40 percent to 37,198 compared with 61,992 cases in the same period the previous year, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Although alcohol is frequently used to keep hands free of bacteria and viruses, it also deprives skin of oil and water and can result in rough hands if used too much.

Excessive exposure to chemicals can also trigger skin irritation. When the skin’s barrier function is disrupted, it becomes even more vulnerable and roughens further.

“Dry and damaged skin could become a hotbed of disease bacteria and also increase the risk of viruses entering the body through cuts in the skin,” the Kao spokeswoman said.

“To prevent infection, it is much more important to wash hands with a moderate amount of soap for more than 30 seconds in an effective manner than to wash hands several times a day,” she said.

In addition, she urged people to firmly wipe their hands off with clean towels or paper towels after washing because damp hands can lead to skin disorders and make it easier for pathogens to latch on.

She added that applying lotion or moisturizing cream is essential to keep hands from chapping and strengthen its barrier function.

The virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19, first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year, has so far infected more than 88,000 people and killed over 3,000 worldwide.

In Japan, confirmed infections stood at about 950, or 229 excluding the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, as of Monday. But the emergence of untraceable cases has raised red flags among health authorities and the public.

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