For my ICP friends you may be wondering what the heck I’m thinking considering hand sanitizers as a foe when we know the importance of hand hygiene in stopping the spread of disease. Nothing is more evident than the importance of frequently washing your hands in the first week back to school. For those in my neck of the woods we are 8 days back to school. Eight measly days and my 6.5 yr old has his first cold (runny nose, cough and “frog” in this throat). Great. Just Great.
Without a doubt, hand sanitizers are useful in killing the bugs found on our hands and minimizing infection transmission. The ones based on ethanol alcohol also contain enough alcohol to elevate blood alcohol levels quickly and the fact is yummy grape or other fruit smelling products may prove to be too irresistible for children to taste. In fact over the past five years, U.S. poison control centers have seen a rise in reports of hand sanitizer-induced drunkenness among children. A rise so significant (e.g. >400%!!) that health experts are now warning of the dangers of underage children using it as a cheap and easy way to get a buzz.
Most of us are probably well aware that alcohol is a chemical by-product produced by fermented yeast, sugar, and starches. When this tasty elixir (drug) is ingested it directly affects the central nervous system. In small amounts, alcohol can produce feelings of euphoria, and relaxation and can also have a sedative effect. In larger amounts which lead to intoxication alcohol can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease.
The average bottle of wine is 12% alcohol and the average beer is around 5% but bottles of hand sanitizer range from 45% to 95% alcohol. I’m sure you can see the concern with ingestion of said hand sanitizers. Similar to wine and beer, drinking these fruity hand sanitizers may give you a buzz similar to one from drinking traditional alcohol, and its much higher alcohol content means you get drunk much faster and significantly increase your risk of developing alcohol poisoning which can be life threatening. Side effects that have been specifically linked to drinking hand sanitizer include diarrhea, memory loss, blindness, and irreversible organ damage.
One way to minimize the risk of children drinking hand sanitizer is to purchase a foam version rather than a gel or liquid version. Foam products are more difficult to extract the alcohol from which help discourage kids from drinking the products. The other option is of course to keep all hand sanitizers out of easy reach.
Having a sick child and believing in the use of hand sanitizers I’m not necessarily a believer that the answer is to put them up out of reach or behind locked doors. We need to continue to promote their use. We need to ensure they are in areas where they can and will be used so that the spread of infections are stopped. I do, however, question why we need to create “pretty” smelling products? Hand Sanitizers have a distinctive alcohol smell. Why not just embrace that smell?
Similar to past discussions on what the smell of clean is – the absence of odor, not the smell of lemons or pine. Why can’t we promote the fact that hand hygiene using alcohol-based products should smell as their names sake. I know that I would take more comfort in smelling the alcohol and knowing that someone used the product and has “clean” hands. Hand hygiene is an important part of our lives. I’m not saying that the number of occurrences of children drinking hand sanitizer is not worrisome, but I wonder if we left the smell as it is rather than trying to “consumerize” it and educated children in how to use and how not to use (– including not drinking it), if we’d see the same problem?
I know that I for one think hand sanitizers are friends. I will continue to use them. I will continue to allow my son to use them, but I will be sure to educate him against ingesting them.