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Hand Sanitizer Can Pose a Danger to Children

Marion and John E. Anderson Pavilion

Teens treated at L.A. County hospitals for alcohol poisoning after ingesting hand sanitizer.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles experts urge parents to take precautions

Contact: Lorenzo Benet at 323-361-4823
Email: lbenet@chla.usc.edu

LOS ANGELES (April 24, 2012) –  California Poison Control has reported 16 cases of teens requiring medical attention in Los Angeles County for alcohol poisoning resulting from ingesting hand sanitizer since March 2012.

So far, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles hasn’t treated any cases.

The liquid sanitizer, which contains 62 percent Ethanol, makes it a powerful 120 proof liquid. Highly concentrated alcohol can be distilled from even a small two ounce bottle of the sanitizer, through a process kids can find in cyberspace, says Cyrus Rangan, MD, a medical toxicology consultant for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

“It’s like drinking shots of hard liquor,” he says.

How can parents keep their children safe? Monitor the hand sanitizer like you would hard liquor or any medication, say experts from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Rangan says the pattern of abuse of hand sanitizer is similar to what he has seen over the years with products like Listerine and Robitussin. He advises that parents keep hand sanitizer out of sight and out of reach when not in use. “Teens may ingest hand sanitizer recreationally, and one or two swallows could get a child visibly drunk. The larger the bottle, the greater the potential for poisoning. Methods to distill it can be found through friends and the internet, but straight ingestion of the product without distillation is also common,” he says, adding that the containers especially pose risks to younger children because the bottles are not outfitted with child-resistant caps.

“A young child can get into hand sanitizer rather easily, and come into a hospital with alcohol intoxication,” he says.

Helen Arbogast, MPH, CHES, CPST, injury prevention coordinator-Trauma Program, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, urges that parents restrict access to these products. If they do buy the product, she recommends parents avoid the Ethanol-based liquid product (“Ethanol” would be the first item listed on the ingredients disclosure) and use a foam hand sanitizer.

“Any hand sanitizer will be a risk for alcohol poisoning, as the foam type is still 62% ethyl alcohol,” says Arbogast. “If someone is purposefully ingesting it, they will not drink the ‘foam’ type, they would likely open the top and drink. We encourage parents of small children to use the foam since it has a smaller concentration of alcohol for accidental consumption prevention.”  

See the Los Angeles Times article.

About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Children's Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s hospital in California and among the best in the nation for clinical excellence with its selection to the prestigious US News & World Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban Research Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States. The hospital is also one of America's premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. For more information, visit CHLA.org. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, or visit our blog: WeAreChildrens.org.

For additional information about child safety and injury prevention, visit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Safety Tips and Injury Prevention.