Mar 17, 2020 - Health

Poison Control sees spike in calls related to hand sanitizer exposure

bottles of hand sanitizer
A basket of smaller bottles of hand sanitizer for sale in Washington, D.C. in early March. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Hand sanitizer is everywhere because of the coronavirus, but that has led to an unexpected side effect: a big spike in calls to poison control hotlines from parents whose children have ingested hand sanitizer.

Why it matters: Hand sanitizer products are 60–70% ethyl alcohol, which can be toxic to young children even in small amounts.

By the numbers: The number of inquiries to the online Poison Control portal have doubled since the fall, said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Control Center.

  • The portal is receiving an average of 12 online hand sanitizer-related queries a day, she said.
  • Hand sanitizer-related phone inquiries are up 22% over the past two weeks, compared to the same period last year, for the National Capital Poison Center, which covers D.C., Northern Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland.

What to watch: The absolute numbers may seem small, but Johnson-Arbor said she expects to see them continue to rise as school closures keep kids at home, where they'll likely have access to hand sanitizer products.

  • "You'll have a lot more children at home among the toxic products that are already there," Johnson-Arbor said. "It's on the counter now and more readily available."

Between the lines: Some hand sanitizers are infused with scents, which can prompt curious children to taste them. While the bitter taste will discourage most kids from ingesting too much, just a teaspoon or a few squirts can be dangerous for toddlers and babies, Johnson-Arbor said.

  • Homemade hand sanitizers can also be dangerous.

If someone is dizzy, drowsy or acting odd after ingesting hand sanitizer, it's probably best to head to an emergency room.

More information: WebPoisonControl.org or call 1-800-222-1222.

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