A message shared a few days ago on WhatsApp, in Cameroon, warns against starting or being close to fire after using hydro-alcoholic gels, currently in great demand because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
"Make sure to not enter the kitchen or go near a flame after using hand sanitizing gel. These gels contain alcohol and are highly flammable. Please share it as much as possible. Thank you," the message reads. It is illustrated with a picture supposedly showing a person with severe burns on the hands and forearms.
Thanks to a google reverse search, we found the said picture on a website where the author claims that a woman accidentally burned herself in Singapore when she lit her stove shortly after disinfecting her hands with a hydro-alcoholic gel. The article reporting the accident was posted on March 24. Other websites like The independent.sg and nanansem also reported the alleged incident.
And yet, this information is erroneous. "The alcohol on the hands evaporates within seconds after application. So there is no risk," explains Dr. Yannick Kamga, a public health physician. "Although the gels contain alcohol, it is quite volatile. And there is also water in the composition. So, you will have to be really unlucky to get yourself burnt that way," Dr. Hans Mbock adds.
Like washing hands with soapy water, hydro-alcoholic gels are recommended in the fight against Covid-19. However, experts recommend a friction time of at least 30 seconds until hands are dry, and to use them occasionally when there is no water supply, especially on public transport.
"The hydro-alcoholic gel has an essentially microbicidal role. It helps kill all the biological agents on our hands. Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerine are the different components of the hydro-alcoholic gel. None of these substances has any impact on our hands. We recommend using it three times, and no more. On the fourth use, use running water and soap. Hand washing removes the residue of these biological agents from the palm of our hand," a specialist explains.
For those who want to produce their alcohol-based hand gel at home, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a guide on its website.
Patricia Ngo Ngouem