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Rise in Alcohol Poisoning Amongst Teens by Ingesting Hand Sanitizer PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 26 April 2012 02:48

LOS ANGELES – Since March, The California Poison Control System has received reports of 16 cases of teens requiring medical attention in Los Angeles County for alcohol poisoning as a result of ingesting hand sanitizer.

In addition, since 2010 statewide, the California Poison Control System has received reports of 60 teens, ages 13 to 19, receiving medical treatment for alcohol poisoning after ingesting hand sanitizer, according to Cyrus Rangan, MD, a medical toxicology consultant for Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and assistant medical director, California Poison Control System.

While Rangan could not comment on the statistical significance of numbers gathered since March because it requires more study, he did say "these continuing reports to the California Poison Control System illustrate that teenagers do recognize hand sanitizers as a potential recreational substance of abuse.

"Parents and people who work with children should be aware of this potential," said Rangan, who also serves as the director of the toxicology bureau for the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.

The teens received medical treatment in Los Angeles area hospitals, Rangan said.

Liquid sanitizer can contain 62 percent Ethanol, which 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, Rangan said.

"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. 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," Rangan said, 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, and injury prevention coordinator- Trauma Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, urges parents to 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," Arbogast said. "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."

In case of an emergency, contact the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.