Ebola Fears in U.S. Boost Sales of Emergency Supplies

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A Hazmat Team in Dallas
A hazmat team arrives to clean a unit at the Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying in Dallas on Oct. 3, 2014. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the past two years, David Scott’s online emergency-supply business had sold only one or two “Extended Infection Protection” kits. This week, he sold out.

Scott said he’s shipped about 50 of the $149.95 packages in the last two weeks, with sales spiking in the three days since officials said a patient in Dallas had been diagnosed with Ebola. While he’s since found new supplies of the kits, which include respirators, eye protection, gloves and biohazard bags, Scott said any spread of the disease could again send him scrambling to locate more inventory.

“People don’t tend to think about these things until they’re in the headlines, then they panic-buy,” said Scott, who founded Chicago-based LifeSecure in 2005. “If you wait until a pandemic happens, the supply dries up very quickly.”

His business isn’t the only one that’s booming in the wake of the U.S. arrival of the deadly infectious disease ravaging West Africa. Since the first case diagnosed outside of Africa was announced earlier this week, fears of a wider outbreak have been boosting sales of disaster-preparedness supplies from rubber gloves to surgical masks and plastic suits.

Almost 7,500 people in West Africa have been infected with Ebola, which is spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, and almost half have died. Health officials said yesterday that about 50 people in Dallas are being monitored for symptoms of the disease after either coming into contact with patient Thomas Eric Duncan or possibly being exposed to the infection some other way. Duncan traveled to the U.S. from Liberia on Sept. 20 and was hospitalized eight days later.

Sales of $124.89 disposable DuPont Co. Tyvek suits surged 233 percent in the 24 hours through 2:19 p.m. New York time on Amazon.com Inc.’s site.

Tripled Production

DuPont, which is based in Wilmington, Delaware, said in an e-mailed statement that it has tripled production of some items used for Ebola protection and has “worked hard to shift products geographically and made a available a broader range of styles suitable for various treatment levels.”

A message on DuPont’s website, which cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends gloves, eye protection, face masks and fluid-resistant gowns to protect against Ebola infection.

Sales of 3M Co.’s particulate respirators, starting at $22, were up 4,004 percent, according to Amazon’s data. Soap.com, a site owned by Amazon, said hand sanitizer sales jumped 20 percent this week.

Handbook Sales

Materials teaching how to deal with a potential Ebola outbreak also have gained in popularity. Sales of “Ebola Survival Handbook: A Collection of Tips, Strategies, and Supply Lists from Some of the World’s Best Preparedness Professionals,” which was published Sept. 22, rose 49 percent in the past 24 hours. Buyers of the book frequently also purchase Tyvek suits and respirators, according to Amazon, which encourages customers to buy all three together.

Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said this week there was “no doubt” that Ebola will be contained in the U.S.

Duncan was first seen by doctors on Sept. 25. He was sent home from the emergency room despite telling a nurse he had recently been in Africa, and hospital officials have blamed a flaw in the electronic medical records system for Duncan’s release.

Sales Pickup

Sales of pandemic-protection supplies started to pick up as Ebola spread through West Africa in the last two weeks, LifeSecure’s Scott said. Once it was confirmed that Ebola was in the U.S., LifeSecure saw a “several hundred percent” increase in sales, he said.

Scott said he’s sold kits to oil producers, banks and other corporations and contractors with workers headed to the West Africa. Purchases have come from all over the country, without a disproportionate spike in the Dallas area, Scott said.

The last time LifeSecure saw so much demand for emergency-response supplies was in 2011, when avian influenza, or bird flu, generated headlines. Scott ran out of supplies then and had a hard time restocking. So far, the fear of Ebola hasn’t been as severe, he said.

“We’re not at that fevered pitch yet,” he said. “If this hits in a bigger way, we’ll be out of supply within a few days.”

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