Hand Sanitizer Leads to Increased Cases of Alcohol Poisoning

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Flavored Hand Sanitizers Dangers
Small children are increasingly ingesting hand sanitizer, and it is causing many of them to wind up in the hospital.” credit=”Emily Braun / WUFT News

With flu season approaching, hand sanitizer can slow the spread of germs. But it can also make your children even sicker than the flu.

Consuming as few as two to three pumps of sanitizer can be enough to send a small child to the hospital with severe alcohol poisoning. This is a situation that Dr. Cristina Zeretzke, an emergency pediatrician at UF Health, has seen before.

“She was six years old…She was pretty much unresponsive,” Zeretzke said. “She had slurred speech, and she wasn’t really able to tell us what had gone on.”

It was later learned that the young girl had taken repeated trips to the bathroom and her teacher said she was licking sanitizer off her hands.

In the past few years, the Poison Control Center has seen a nationwide increase of calls related to children drinking hand sanitizer.

In Florida, the number of hand sanitizer cases reported to Poison Control has been high for the past few years. According to the Florida Poison Information Center, there were 834 cases statewide in 2014, with 75 percent of them involving children under 5 years old.

Zeretzke thinks with a wide variety of scented, or to some kids “flavored,” sanitizers available, the appeal is very present.  In addition to the different smells, “they come in very attractive bottles, which is a little more enticing for a small child to ingest them.”

Monitoring children and ensuring they are using hand sanitizer correctly is key, she said.

Flavored Hand Santizers
Some hand sanitizers on the market have high levels of ethyl alcohol such as this Target product in which 63% of its active ingredient is alcohol. Emily Braun / WUFT News

Kendra Goff, state toxicologist for the Florida Department of Health, strongly agrees.

As for preventative tips, Goff advises to “put one dollop of hand sanitizer in their hand and watch them rub their hands together. Also, keep them out of the bathroom where they are unsupervised.”

If the sanitizers are out in the open, children can think it’s a flavored drink. “Children just aren’t aware of the dangers,” she said.

Of the cases last year, 44 were due to intentional abuse. Although the majority of cases dealt with small children, Zeretzke said older children and teens who know about the effects should not mess around with it.

About Emily Braun

Emily is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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