Safety First: Let’s protect our children from ingesting hand sanitizer



A message from Dr. Unjali Malhotra and Dr. Kelsey Louie, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we've all been buying and using hand sanitizer much more frequently to protect ourselves and our children. Because of this, it is important to keep in mind that the alcohol content in hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning, and that we need to always keep it out of reach of children and pets. Drinking even a small amount can be dangerous and cause alcohol poisoning.

The BC Poison Control Centre reported that they received three times more calls in the month of April regarding accidental ingestions. ​And the Drug & Poison Information Centre at the BC Centre for Disease Control says calls have jumped from less than two a week in January and February to an average of seven per week in April, all involving children under five.

Toddlers and children mimic adults, so there is a chance they could be drawn to the sanitizer when they see adults using it often. What's more, some sanitizers are brightly packaged or scented, and this could make them attractive to toddlers and children. If your child is old enough to understand, talk to them about the risks of consuming alcohol-based products.

Although there are alcohol-free sanitizers, only those that are at least 60% alcohol are effective at killing most germs and viruses, so alcohol-free sanitizers are not recommended for protection against COVID-19. 

Each of us plays a role in protecting our community and loved ones. Remember to wash your and your children's hands frequently and thoroughly with warm (not cold) water and soap; this is the most effective way to kill the virus as it removes oils that can harbour germs. If you are out somewhere and can't wash your or your children's hands, then hand sanitizer is the next-best option. 

When applying hand sanitizer to children, remember:

 ​Only a dime-size amount is needed.

 Apply to dry hands.

 Rub their hands together until completely dry.

 ​Ensure they keep their hands from their mouths and eyes.

The bottom line is that hand sanitizers can be used safely on children, with supervision, as the benefit of reduced illness transmission outweighs potential for toxicity from accidental ingestion.

If you think someone has swallowed any amount of hand sanitizer, call your local poison control centre. For the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre, call 1-800-567-8911.

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