Ebola fears a boon for manufacturers of protective gear

A health-care worker displays protective gear, which hospital staff would wear to protect them from Ebola, at the Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Since the first US Ebola diagnosis in Dallas last month, demand for hazardous materials suits and face m
A health-care worker displays protective gear, which hospital staff would wear to protect them from Ebola, at the Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Since the first US Ebola diagnosis in Dallas last month, demand for hazardous materials suits and face masks has surged, creating a boon for companies that manufacture and sell the protective equipment amid heightened fears the deadly outbreak will spread. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Since the first U.S. Ebola diagnosis in Dallas last month, demand for hazardous materials suits and face masks has surged, creating a boon for companies that manufacture and sell the protective equipment amid heightened fears the deadly outbreak will spread.

The companies range from well-established medical supply manufacturers to little-known businesses that produce hazmat suits used in West Africa and now U.S. hospitals.

After Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, and later died, U.S. hospitals rapidly increased orders for protective equipment. A nurse's aide in Spain also became infected after caring for a patient there.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that three million protective suits will be needed to control the Ebola outbreak worldwide, to ensure healthcare workers and others do not come into contact with infectious bodily fluids such as blood or sweat.

DuPont, a producer of protective suits being used in both West Africa and the United States, said it has more than tripled its production since the start of the outbreak in March.

Kimberly-Clark, which makes protective disposable medical equipment for healthcare workers, said it has seen a 20 to 30 per cent rise in demand compared with the same time period last year.

And Medline, a manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, has reported a more than 40 per cent increase in sales of face masks, eyewear and shields and a more than 25 per cent rise in protective apparel sales in the past 30 days.

"Once the first case (in the United States) was diagnosed, we saw an increase in calls" with more than 150 new inquiries a day, said Stephanie Pasko Nelson, vice president of marketing for Medline's preventive care division.

Ebola has "definitely increased awareness, attention and inquiries coming through" more than previous pandemics, such as SARS and H1N1 swine flu, Pasko Nelson said.

Expectations of greater demand for their products have pushed stocks in hazmat suit producer Lakeland Industries and protective face mask company Alpha Pro Tech more than 120 per cent higher last week. Both companies declined to comment.

DuPont, the largest of the companies affected, saw its stock jump more than 10 per cent from mid-September to Sept. 30.

Though it has seen a steady rise in demand since the start of the outbreak in March, DuPont said it has seen a "significant increase" as the disease spread to the United States and Europe. "We anticipate awareness to continue," Pasko Nelson said. "We're prepared."