‘Truly problematic.’ Hand sanitizer ingestions surge during coronavirus pandemic

·3 min read

Even before President Donald Trump’s controversial comments about internal use of disinfectants, calls to the California Poison Control System had risen due to increased use of cleaning solutions because of the pandemic.

“For the month of March, hand sanitizer ingestions were about 200,” said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, “In April they’ve jumped to 340.”

Rangan is a pediatrician and toxicologist and the assistant medical director for California Poison Control System.

Nationwide, more than 9,000 hand sanitizer exposures were reported to the 55 U.S. Poison Control Centers between Jan. 1 and April 19, which is about a 33% increase compared to the same time period last year. Exposure includes any contact beside hands, such as ingestions or inoculation into eyes.

Rangan said, “This is truly problematic with the pandemic, as it’s bound to be out more,” referring to the increased presence of hand sanitizers around the house necessitated for frequent use.

Effective hand sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol, which is roughly the equivalent of 120 proof. By comparison, vodka is about 80-100 proof.

“Parents wouldn’t leave a bottle of vodka in reach of children,” said Rangan. “They need to think the same of hand sanitizer.”

He said for children, curiosity and accessibility lead to accidental ingestions. With children home from school and parents working at home, the level of supervision may need to be higher than in usual times.

“Take an inventory of your home, the medications, cleaning supplies, etc,” Rangan said. “For children, out of sight and out of reach are the tried and true for prevention.”

Poison Control Centers tracking bleach ingestion

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has also been tracking sodium hypochlorite (bleach) ingestion as a marker for ingestions of disinfectants.

Rangan said calls for accidental ingestion had also increased with pandemic, but the rate of daily calls has doubled since April 24, after President Trump suggested that ingestion of disinfectants might kill the coronavirus.

“We’ve had a surge of calls about bleach; usually it’s been about 30 calls per day but it spiked to 60 calls per day,” said Rangan.

He said many of those callers were asking if it’s OK to drink bleach. A handful of severe intoxication cases from intentionally drinking bleach have been reported in California, which is less than seen in some other states, including New York and Maryland.

Nearly 15,000 bleach exposures have been reported to 55 poison control centers in the U.S. from January 1 to April 19, 2020. This is a 50% increase compared to the same period last year, and before the April 24 statements from Trump.

Rangan said he thought he would never need to say this, but “There is absolutely no reason to have intentional ingestion or injection of bleach.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.

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