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CDC Report Highlights Rise In Number Of Children Getting Sick For Drinking Hand Sanitizer

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The number of children getting sick from drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizers has risen, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report.

In the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released March 3, Cynthia Santos, M.D., and colleagues showed that improper use of hand sanitizers has led to an increase in the number of children getting sick.

Hand sanitizers are inexpensive yet effective means of reducing microorganisms on the skin because many are formulated to contain between 60 and 95 percent isopropyl or ethanol alcohol by volume. However, this makes them dangerous to the health when ingested.

According to recent reports, serious health consequences associated with hand sanitizer consumption include acidosis, apnea, and even coma in young children. Data collected by poison control centers point to both intentional and unintentional exposures. Routes vary but the primary mode of exposure for both alcohol and non-alcohol hand sanitizers was ingestion and majority of exposures occurred in children between the ages of 5 and 12.

Hand Sanitizer Exposure In Children

Between 2011 and 2014, the National Poison Data System logged 70,669 cases of exposure to alcohol and non-alcohol hand sanitizers in children 12 years old and below. About 90 percent of these were in children 5 years old and below and 97 percent of cases in the age group were oral ingestions.

In children between 6 and 12 years old, hand sanitizer exposure was more intentional in nature, suggesting that there may be the possibility of product abuse. Older children also experience more symptoms and reported worse outcomes than their younger counterparts although life-threatening instances were rare.

The researchers spotted seasonal trends in the data which showed increased usage in hand sanitizers during flu season or the school year.

"Some schools might require or ask children to purchase and carry hand sanitizers, which might contribute to the higher number of exposures during the school year," they explained.

What Adults Can Do

Parents, guardians, health care providers and caregivers have to be made aware of the possible dangers and risks of improper use in children, as well as the need for safety precautions to protect them, such as keeping hand sanitizers out of reach of young children.

Again, hand sanitizers are effective at keeping skin bacteria at bay but they should not replace traditional hand washing with soap and water.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of triclocarban, triclosan, and 17 other chemicals in antibacterial products due to concerns over bacterial resistance but the ban doesn't apply to hand sanitizers and soaps used in health care settings.

Do Hand Sanitizers Really Work?

In June 2016, the FDA announced it wants more data proving not only that hand sanitizers are safe for use every day but that they are also effective in reducing skin bacteria. The agency, however, clarified that it's not saying that hand sanitizers are not safe or do not work but simply want more proof.

"[I]t's our responsibility to determine whether these products are safe and effective ... To do that, we must fill the gaps in scientific data on certain active ingredients," said Janet Woodcock, M.D., FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Researcher director.

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