ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — Georgia health officials are warning schools of the dangers of hand sanitizer after realizing some children are drinking it.
Georgia Poison Center told Georgia school superintendents they’ve “noticed a troubling new trend,” as reported by CBS News.
Hand sanitizer, which is a staple on many back-to-school supplies lists, can lead to alcohol poisoning when the ethanol-based product is consumed.
Dr. Gaylord Lopez, a toxicologist and director of the Georgia Poison Center, began to review data from the nation’s poison control centers after receiving a call from an emergency room doctor. Lopez told CBS News that about 3,600 cases were reported involving hand sanitizer in 2010 for children under 12. The number of calls jumped to 16,117 in 2013.
“And I thought, wait a minute, that’s almost a 400 percent increase,” Lopez told CBS News.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing ethyl alcohol seem to be the root of the problem. Even ingesting a small amount of the product can lead to dangerous consequences for children.
“The concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizers varies from 45 percent to 95 percent, with the most commonly used in the range of 60-70 percent,” Lopez wrote.
While most beer and wine contains 5 to 12 percent alcohol, Lopez says just a few tablespoons of the hand sanitizer could lead to intoxication among children. Experts warn that swallowing even an ounce or two could be fatal to a small child, with similar effects to mouthwash or perfume being swallowed.
Six-year-old Nhaijah Russell swallowed three or four squirts of sanitizer and ended up in the emergency room with a blood alcohol level of 1.79, twice the level that is considered legally drunk for an adult, as reported by CNN.
Health officials and poison control experts say that sanitizer should be stored out of children’s reach and used only under adult supervision. Lopez warns that teachers should be aware of children purposely drinking hand sanitizer to get a “buzz” or “get drunk.”
Alcohol poisoning is typically marked by confusion, inability to wake up, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, and low body temperature or a bluish skin color, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.