Fourfold increase in children ingesting hand sanitizer in last 4 years – report

© Stefan Wermuth
Poison control centers around the United States have reported a nearly 400-percent uptick since 2010 in the number of children under the age of 12 swallowing highly-alcoholic hand sanitizer, according to the Georgia Poison Center.

According to Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, hand sanitizer ingestion cases in children under 12 that were reported to poison control centers went up from 3,266 in 2010 to 16,117 in 2014.

“Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there’s a percentage of them going to the emergency room,” Lopez told CNN.

He said some kids are drinking sanitizer intentionally, while some do it to impress their friends or on a social-media dare. Videos on YouTube show teenagers drinking sanitizer for a cheap buzz. Teens have reportedly mixed sanitizer with alcohol-containing mouthwash for a stiffer drink. Younger children can be drawn to attractive sanitizer scents.

“A kid is not thinking this is bad for them,” Lopez said. “A lot of the more attractive (hand sanitizers) are the ones that are scented. There are strawberry, grape, orange-flavored hand sanitizers that are very appealing to kids.”

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Hand sanitizer contains anywhere between 45 and 95 percent alcohol. In young children, especially, only a few squirts can cause alcohol poisoning.

“It’s highly concentrated alcohol,” Dr. Stephen Thornton, medical director of the poison control center at University of Kansas Hospital, told Fox 4 in Kansas City. “So you wouldn’t leave a shot of whiskey sitting around, but people will have these hand sanitizers out and if kids get into it, it’s a quick way to consume a lot of alcohol.”

Nhaijah Russell, a six-year-old girl who recently ingested as many as four squirts of strawberry-scented hand sanitizer at school, was taken to an emergency room for treatment. Her blood-alcohol level was .179, twice the threshold considered legally drunk in an adult, according to Dr. Chris Ritchey, an emergency room doctor who treated her at Gwinnett Medical Center outside of Atlanta.

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Nhaijah was slurring her words and was unable to walk when she arrived at the emergency room. Doctors monitored her overnight at a separate children's hospital for any signs of brain trauma, as the alcohol caused the girl to fall and hit her head, Ritchey said.

“That was very scary,” Ortoria Scott, Nhaijah’s mother, told CNN. “It could have been very lethal for my child.”

Lopez has recommended parents and teachers use nonalcoholic products or sanitizing wipes short of moving hand sanitizer out of a child's reach.


Beyond alcohol poisoning, some sanitizers have been linked to deaths. In 2013, two Ontario women died after swallowing hand sanitizer that contained a toxic, undeclared ingredient. Health officials surmised that the product contained methanol, a deadly agent, rather than ethyl alcohol, which was listed as the active ingredient.

In January, three fourth-grade students in upstate New York plotted to poison their "mean" teacher “by putting antibacterial products around the classroom,” according to a police report. The teacher is highly allergic to hand sanitizer and banned it from her room. Police considered the foiled plan to be "idle chatter," referring discipline to the school district.