As the global outbreak of the novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 continues unbridled, scientists around the world are trying to achieve a better understanding of the previously unknown pathogen. What's already clear is that in order to slow down the spread, comprehensive hygiene measures are indispensable. The novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the larger Coronaviridae family. In humans, its members can cause infections of the respiratory tract such as bronchitis or the common cold as well as more severe diseases: for instance, SARS-CoV, which was first detected in 2003, can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome, an atypical form of pneumonia. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called Covid-19. It can lead to respiratory symptoms, fever, coughing and shortness of breath. In severe cases, the symptoms caused may include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure or even death
"We are still in a learning process regarding SARS-CoV-2," says Dr Erika Mönch, Head of Microbiology at BODE Chemie, HARTMANN Business Division Disinfection. "Because it is a completely novel virus, the human immune system has yet been unable to develop antibodies that neutralise the pathogen – that's what makes the illness more severe." Compared to seasonal influenza, higher rates of critical infections as well as a higher mortality are observed with regard to SARS-CoV-2. Mönch believes that global outbreaks of other emerging diseases are highly probable in the future. Part of the reason is that the pressure of natural selection is increasing through factors including globalisation, the growing worldwide mobility of people and goods or climate change. "Evolution is ongoing, and the most successful organisms will prevail," concludes Mönch. However, with regard to Coronaviridae, severe infections or high mortality rates are not primary indicators of success. Rather, a successful virus is one that is able to maintain maximum transmission effectiveness. That's why it is so important to slow down the rate of new infections.
Breaking chains of infection
Among humans, SARS-CoV-2 mainly spreads via droplet infection: when a person carrying the virus coughs or sneezes, the resulting droplets can transmit the pathogen to others in their direct vicinity. A contact infection can occur when someone touches a contaminated surface and their unwashed hands subsequently come into contact with their mouth or other mucous membranes of their face. However, the risk of infection can be reduced considerably through so-called social or physical distancing and proper respiratory etiquette – covering one's mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and safely disposing of it. Another highly effective way of breaking chains of infection is good hand hygiene.
Effective hygiene routines
"The most important aspect of hand hygiene is that you actually do it and regularly disinfect or wash your hands," says Dr Henning Mallwitz, Director Research & Development Disinfection at BODE Chemie, HARTMANN Business Division Disinfection. Like influenza, SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus and can be neutralised by any disinfectant that is virucidal against enveloped viruses. "All HARTMANN disinfection products fulfil this requirement of efficacy and can be used," explains Mallwitz.
Some believe that disinfectants can damage the skin. However, they are actually better for the skin than water and soap. "Each time you wash your hands, a little bit of the protective layer is removed – this is not the case with disinfectant," Mallwitz says. Another misconception that's long been disproved is that the repeated use of hand disinfectant leads to resistance of pathogens.
Heightened social responsibility
Manufacturers of medical and hygiene products have encountered some very distinct new challenges as a result of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the resulting increase in demand. Some retailers, for instance, have been selling items such as disinfectant or face masks at drastically increased prices in an attempt to profit from the situation.
HARTMANN expressly condemns such behaviour. Not just because this can negatively affect the company's reputation, but especially because it means that some people will potentially be left unable to protect themselves from contracting Covid-19.
"We believe that we have an increased ethical responsibility right now," explains Dr Gian Carlo Sciuchetti, Managing Director of BODE Chemie GmbH and Business Division Head Disinfection at HARTMANN. "That's why we clearly dissociate ourselves from overpricing in any form and do not contribute to it." Although the company has no immediate influence on individual retailers and their pricing policies, the company continuously monitors the market and, where feasible, considers legal action.
Impact on manufacturing costs
In addition, there are new manufacturing challenges. According to Sciuchetti, HARTMANN has been significantly increasing its production and shipping activities for some key products in order to maintain a steady supply to those who most need them. However, the move comes at increased staffing and logistics costs.
And there is also the issue of raw materials: as demand intensifies, availability will decrease while prices rise. "It is difficult for any company to cope with higher prices for raw materials," Sciuchetti says. "We are closely monitoring the situation so that we can quickly react to all developments."