Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, preventative products such as hand sanitiser, face masks and coverings and cleaning products have been constantly out of stock. Although their properties are no doubt helpful in preventing the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, the overuse of chemical substances does come with a list of negative side effects that could have an adverse impact on your health.
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, one way it is spread is through cough droplets, and so washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water is one of the most effective ways at stopping yourself from being infected. If that’s not possible, hand sanitiser is a good alternative, but it does come with a few issues when you begin to overuse it.
If you’ve hit your local town to go shopping, you may have been asked to use hand sanitiser each time you entered a new shop. If you got home with extremely dry and cracked hands, that’s where the problem lies.
Excessive use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers removes the normal bacterial flora from your skin which can fight off pathogens and prevent you from being infected by viruses such as COVID-19. Put simply, the natural balance of good or ‘commensal’ skin bacteria protects you against pathogens and therefore hand sanitisers can cause dysbiosis of the skin microbiome, leading to disease. Hand sanitisers also remove the oil and water from the skin, which strips away the thin layer of natural protection and opens up the skin to infection through cuts and breakages on the surface.
It’s important not to substitute hand washing with soap with hand sanitiser completely, and to only use this when hand washing facilities are not available. Many people are also turning to increased levels of cleaning at home, and although it seems like a natural reaction, this too can have some adverse effects on your health. Most products fall into the carcinogenic and neurotoxin categories and can cause an increase in your risk of cancer as well as headaches and decreased brain activity. Many of them produce a toxic gas when being used which can cause respiratory problems that could put people at risk of getting the worst symptoms of COVID-19, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Click here to read more about the effects of cleaning products during the pandemic.
Antibiotics are similarly dangerous to be overusing during the COVID-19 pandemic, warns WHO. Often during medical emergencies, antibiotics get overprescribed in order to try and keep people safe, but they may have much more damaging effects in the long run.
Doctors heavily prescribed antibiotics during the previous SARS epidemic, and that resulted in a sharp increase in AMR, or antimicrobial resistance. This means that a disease-causing microbe has mutated in a way that makes previously effective treatment no longer successful. Infections that were once easily treated could become fatal – we could be taking a huge step back in terms of medical abilities.
The World Health Organisation predicts that the worldwide death rates from drug resistant infections will rise from 700,000 per year to 10 million by 2050, which could make AMR the main cause of death in humans.
Ultimately, there will be increasing long-term costs associated with AMR unless the problem is tackled head on. Illnesses will last longer, treatments will need to be more intense and lengthier, and hospitals will slowly be put under more and more strain.
We are not too far gone in order to tackle these issues, and WHO are working towards bettering our use of antibacterial products and antibiotics for a more sustainable outcome. Although the current pandemic may have brought the problem to light, there is a lot that can and will be done in order to keep it under control.