STERIS hand sanitizer sales grow with swine flu concerns

Sales of hand sanitizers for health care workers made by STERIS Corp. have grown 15 percent in September, likely because of growing concerns about the H1N1, or swine flu, virus as it moves across the United States. While the flu pandemic may substantially boost sales of between 12 and 17 hand sanitizing products for STERIS, Stephen Norton, corporate communications director, cautioned investors against too rosey a financial view of his company.

MENTOR, Ohio — Sales of hand sanitizers for health care workers made by STERIS Corp. have grown 15 percent in September, likely because of growing concerns about the  H1N1, or swine flu, virus as it moves across the United States, according to Bloomberg News.

STERIS,  which makes sterilization and decontamination equipment and supplies for hospitals, is building up inventory in preparation for another outbreak, Timothy Chapman, senior vice president of health care, told Bloomberg during a Sept. 11 telephone interview. Hand-sanitizer orders may triple in coming months if more outbreaks occur, Chapman said.

“Since the middle of August we have seen a significant order run-up for these products,” Chapman told  Bloomberg. Health-care workers wash their hands probably 50 to 60 times a day, he said.  

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There have been 41,556 confirmed cases of H1N1 virus infection nationwide as of Sept. 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Demand for STERIS products increased as much as 60 percent in April and May when H1N1 emerged in the United States, Chapman told Bloomberg. The company sells 17 types of hand sanitizer.

A survey of 120 customers by STERIS showed that one in six had pre-ordered supplies to contend with an H1N1 outbreak during the U.S. flu season, which traditionally runs from October through January, Chapman told Bloomberg. STERIS has 4,500 hospital and other health-care providers as clients, he said.

“There are a lot of health systems out there that don’t really have a formal preparedness plan for H1N1,” Chapman told Bloomberg. “Most of our customers just expect us to have the product when they need it.” Dentists, law offices, schools and community organizations are contacting STERIS daily because their regular providers are already out of hand sanitizers and similar products, he said.

STERIS is working with suppliers to meet expected demand, Chapman told Bloomberg. Shortages could come from a lack of bottles, labels and caps, he said.

Reacting to the Bloomberg story, Stephen Norton, director of corporate communications for STERIS, today cautioned investors against too rosey a financial outlook for his company because of the revenue opportunities posed by the swine flu pandemic.

“Please note that the increase in sales is limited to about 12-17 hand hygiene products, and that overall this increase is less than 1 percent of total revenue,” Norton said in an e-mailed response to a reporter’s questions. “The [Bloomberg] headline and generally bullish tone was a bit misleading as to the overall impact on revenue for STERIS. This is a very small piece of the business.”

On Monday, STERIS published at its Web site an H1N1 public service announcement video that features features Dr. Wally Puckett, vice president of science and technology at STERIS, and Dr. Robert Salata, infectious diseases and HIV chief at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. While aimed at health care professionals to help them use STERIS products to avoid the flu, the video also could instruct the public, Norton said.

“The video is one element of our overall H1N1 Response Program,” Norton said.

STERIS shares were up 6 cents, or about 20 percent, to $29.97 in noon-hour trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.