It has become quite common for hand sanitizers to be used by both adults and children. People carry them in purses and bags. Schools often require a small bottle of hand sanitizer as part of the list of school supplies a child must bring to school. However, there is a potential danger that involves hand sanitizers and young children that parents need to be aware of.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. They only suggest the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (that contain at least 60% alcohol) if soap and water are not available. This is because alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
That doesn’t mean that hand sanitizers are dangerous, though. It means they are not as effective as soap and water. In short, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers shouldn’t be a “go-to” when soap and water are available.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can become dangerous when ingested. It seems to me that it would be rather unlikely for an adult to decide to drink hand sanitizer. Young children, however, may decide to taste it or drink it. With that in mind, it is a good idea to have an adult supervise young children while they are using alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the way it was intended to be used.
Sometimes, though, accidents happen. Such was the case when a four year old girl ingested alcohol-based hand sanitizer while she was at preschool. She somehow managed to drink enough of it to become drunk. This situation happened in a preschool in New Zealand in 2014.
When the girl’s mother picked her up from preschool, she noticed that her daughter was acting silly and stumbling. The staff at the preschool noted that the girl had been acting that way for an hour before her mother picked her up. They suspected the girl might have meningitis and described her as “floppy”.
The girl’s mother drove her to an emergency room where the child collapsed in a nurse’s arms and became unresponsive. The child was rehydrated at the emergency room and kept in the hospital for overnight observation. A urine test revealed that the four year old had a high amount of alcohol in her system. In other words, she was drunk. She had alcohol poisoning.
An investigation was done at the preschool the child attended. It revealed that the only alcohol on the premises was in the alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is estimated the child drank about 40 mls of it. Interestingly, the alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispenser in this preschool is located high up on a wall and out of the reach of children. It is unclear exactly how the child was able to reach it.
Image by Liz West Flickr.