ATHENS, Ga. — A troubling trend during the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in calls to poison helplines about children drinking hand sanitizer and for exposure to cleaners and disinfectants.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 7,593 hand sanitizer exposure cases in children 12 years and younger in the first four months of 2020, with a sharp increase seen in March when stay-at-home orders began.
To a child, a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting on the kitchen counter can look attractive. The container may be brightly colored, smell like food and could even contain glitter.
If a child ingests more than a small taste, they may be at risk for alcohol poisoning.
Most of the hand sanitizers people use are alcohol-based and contain 60% to 70% ethyl alcohol, more alcohol than most hard liquor.
Alcohol poisoning can lead to confusion, vomiting and drowsiness, and in severe cases, death. You can reduce the risk by storing hand sanitizer out of reach and sight of children.
Encourage children to thoroughly wash their hands and allow them to use hand sanitizer only with careful adult supervision. If you suspect someone has swallowed hand sanitizer, contact the Georgia Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
As people clean and disinfect their homes more often, children and other family members also are being exposed to more household cleaners and disinfectants.
The daily number of calls to poison centers increased sharply at the beginning of March for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants, with bleach accounting for 62.1% of the increase in calls.
Along with increased use, products may not be used properly. Chemical odors and aerosol sprays contribute to indoor air contaminants and may trigger allergies and asthma in some people.
You can protect your family and reduce the risk of exposure by following these guidelines:
- Always read and follow the directions on the label.
- Dilute products using water at room temperature unless stated otherwise on the label.
- Avoid mixing chemicals, especially bleach and ammonia, which will create a chlorine gas.
- Use cleaning products in well-ventilated areas.
- Wear eye and skin protection.
- Store household cleaners, disinfectants, laundry products and pesticides out of sight and out of reach of children and pets.
For more information, visit the Georgia Poison Center at georgiapoisoncenter.org/poisons/in-the-news/alerts-recent-trends/hand-sanitizer, the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6916e1.htm?s_cid=mm6916e1_w#F1_down and the American Association of Poison Control Centers at aapcc.org/track/hand-sanitizer.
–Pamela Turner, University of Georgia