The widespread use of alcohol-gel hand sanitizers presents some risks, especially to small children.
McClatchy Tribune Newspapers
January 14, 2010
For parents, flu season is a season of worry: Will their kids catch the H1N1 flu virus? If they do, will there be complications? Are the vaccines safe?
Add a new worry: Whether the hand sanitizers parents so often carry to protect their little ones from bacteria might cause more harm than good.
In most cases, it's fine. In 2006, poison centers reported 11,914 exposures to ethanol-containing hand sanitizers, including 9,607 related to children younger than 6. None of the calls resulted in death. In 2005-2006, only two cases, both related to adults, resulted in a major medical effect.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers offers the following tips to help use hand sanitizers safely and prevent the spread of germs this flu season:
Keep hand sanitizers out of reach of children. A high shelf or locked cabinet will suffice.
Avoid super-size containers. Consider buying a small container or continuously refilling a small container so kids have access to less quantity of the gel.
Offer guidance about how to use the product. Parents who send their children to school with a small bottle of hand sanitizer should inform them what the product does and how to use it properly. Consider carefully whether your child is responsible enough to use the product properly without adult supervision.
Make sure children fully rub the product in. Make sure it dries, to help prevent eye or mouth exposure.
If your child does get a lick of hand sanitizer, don't panic. Expect him or her to be fine.
If your child ingests amounts as small as a teaspoon, call your poison control center. It takes less than a teaspoon for an infant to become intoxicated or poisoned. In toddlers, as little as a tablespoon can be harmful.
Call your poison center at 800-222-1222. If you think someone got hand sanitizer in the mouth or eyes. Poison experts will assess the size of the patient, the amount of hand sanitizer and give fast treatment advice.
If it's available, opt for soap and water to kill germs. Hand sanitizers should be a second choice if soap and water are not available.
Avoid contact with sick people if possible.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.
SOURCE: The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation's 60 poison control centers in their efforts to prevent poisoning. Poison centers offer free and confidential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.