Warning issued after spike in children and adults consuming hand sanitizer

May 26 2020, 1:01 pm

People of all ages are being reminded to store hand sanitizer safely and to keep it out of children’s reach.

The Drug & Poison Information Centre (DPIC) at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says there’s been a “sharp increase in calls about accidental ingestion.”

In January and February, poison control received fewer than two calls a week regarding “hand sanitizer exposure” in children under the age of five. The DPIC says that the number of calls spiked, averaging seven calls per week in April.

For adults, that amount increased from one to three-and-a-half calls per week across the same time period.

DPIC explains that most hand sanitizers contain a bittering agent that makes the taste “very unpleasant” and that people who accidentally consume hand sanitizer “typically only ingest a small amount.”

That being said, ingesting hand sanitizer in large enough quantities can still cause alcohol poisoning. Young children can become especially ill even from a small amount of alcohol.

Fortunately, most of the calls received recently have been minor exposures and there haven’t been any serious injuries.

“Practicing good hand hygiene is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Tom Kosatsky, medical director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC.

“Alcohol-based sanitizers are a good option for cleaning your hands when it’s not possible to wash them with soap and water. However, as these products become more a part of our daily lives, it’s important to be careful when storing them and using them, especially if there are young children in your home.”

The DPIC adds that hand sanitizers that are made by breweries and distilleries can often come in liquid form and can be packaged in a bottle or can, making them easier to consume by accident.

People are being advised to properly mark and label their hand sanitizer, as well as to keep them out of reach of children, pets, and people with dementia.

In the case of accidental ingestion, British Columbians are advised to call the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre at 1-800-567-8911.

Vincent PlanaVincent Plana

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