As the World Health Organization has raised the Pandemic Influenza (Swine Flu) threat to Level 5, pharmacies, medical suppliers, and others who sell face masks, respirators, and hand sanitizers are seeing a skyrocketing demand for such products.  There is a shortage of masks in Mexico, so many U.S. areas with large Mexican-American or Mexican populations (parts of Texas, California and the Chicago area) are seeing sales of large quantities, which will be sent to family and friends in Mexico.  Masks that the U.S. government is sending to Mexico are for first responders only – paramedics, police, and firefighters.  Individuals must purchase theirs.

In West Houston, Spring Branch Medical Supply had a run on face masks and hand sanitizers.  According to the Houston Chronicle, one of their normally slow-selling items became their hottest-seller.  People were lined up outside the door waiting to make their purchases.  Home improvement outlets, drug stores, and medical supply stores are almost completely sold out throughout Houston.  The Ft. Worth Star Telegram reports that local pharmacies have indicated supplies of surgical masks are depleted and on back order.  Harris Methodist Southwest Hospital pharmacy director stated that they were out of masks by Tuesday; however, their supplies should be replenished in a few days.  CVS Caremark, the biggest U.S. drugstore chain, said sales of face masks rose drastically on their website.  Walgreen, the U.S.’ second-largest drug chain, also reported an increased number of sales of face masks.

Elsewhere, in New Zealand, a demand for face masks has been ignited by this international scare.  Although there have been no reported confirmed cases in England and France, manufacturers and pharmacies are reporting sharp increases in the demand for face masks.
In Paris, a chemist at Pharmacie des Halles told CNN: “if you see a masks supplier, please send him to me”.  Suppliers are struggling with the demand in order to be prepared to handle an outbreak, should one occur.  In the Singapore airport, Watsons outlet has seen their demand for face masks jump ten times the normal range.

Production of face masks and respirators has been stepped up worldwide.  Respirators shield the user from biological contaminates, and face masks are designed to help prevent the spread of contaminates from the infected person.  They also keep persons from touching their noses and mouths, spreading germs they may have come in contact with from touching contaminated surfaces.