If hand sanitizer seems ubiquitous these days, it's probably because sales of the gel have skyrocketed recently, with many hoping it will ward off swine flu.
If hand sanitizer seems ubiquitous these days, it's probably because sales of the gel have skyrocketed recently, with many hoping it will ward off swine flu. iStockphoto.com
Concern over the H1N1, or swine flu, virus has been a big boost for companies that make hand sanitizer.
More than $117 million worth of the clear gels were sold in the United States last year, according to Information Resources Inc. of Chicago. The company's figures don't include retail giant Walmart, but they show that overall there was a 17 percent increase in hand sanitizer sales in the year ending Sept. 6. For August, IRI reported a 50 percent jump in sales over the same month in 2008.
Ohio-based Gojo Industries invented Purell, the best-selling hand sanitizer. The company still makes the Purell that goes into dispensers in hospitals and schools. (Johnson & Johnson distributes the Purell you buy in the grocery store.)
Recently, Gojo issued a statement saying the company was experiencing high demand, and it asked customers not to hoard its product.
"There is absolutely no need to stockpile product," said President and CEO Mark Lerner. "In fact, stockpiling could cause an actual shortage which, in turn, could threaten public health."
Gojo says it's ramping up production — keeping factories open around the clock and hiring more workers.
Look around the campus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and you can see why the folks at Gojo are so busy. There are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere. The school has been hit with more than 565 cases of flu since classes started in August.
One administrator at the school took a lot of ribbing because he brought sanitizer with him to graduation ceremonies in May.
"We had hand sanitizer placed at two different positions as you were about to ascend the stairs to the stage and two different positions as you descended," says Paul Voakes, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
After shaking 15 to 20 hands, Voakes says he'd rub a little sanitizer on his hands to make sure any bugs he picked up didn't get passed on.
"To my knowledge, nobody got swine flu as a result of our commencement," Voakes says.
Lest you think buying a bottle of hand sanitizer is all you need to ward off swine flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says washing your hands is just the start. The agency suggests that you get a flu vaccination and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If you do get sick, stay home. And when you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, then throw it away.