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Experts report increase in young kids ingesting hand sanitizer

Georgia Poison Center reports a 45% increase in hand sanitizer-related calls this year, compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

ATLANTA — Many people keep hand sanitizer around our homes, in a purse or car, within a child's reach. 

But since the start of the pandemic, the National Poison Data System has been getting more reports of unintentional exposures in children. More than a year and half into the pandemic, Gaylord Lopez, executive director of Georgia Poison Center says that trend has continued. 

Lopez told 11Alive's Liza Lucas the center has seen a 45% increase in hand sanitizer-related calls this year, compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

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According to data from Georgia Poison Center, the center received 484 hand sanitizer-related calls from Jan. 2019 - Sept.  2019. In 2021, the center has received 704 calls in that same period. Lopez cited the increase as "significant," adding more than 82 percent of cases are in children under age five.

Nationally, poison control centers have managed 15,867 exposure cases this year in children 12 years and younger as of Aug. 31, according to data from the National Poison Data System, American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Since many kids are now taking hand sanitizer in their backpacks or have access to the products in class, Lopez said the issue is just as problematic at school as at home. 

"If you think about this in plain old kindergarten English, this is equivalent to alcohol poisoning," Lopez said. "In fact, the amount of alcohol contained in hand sanitizer is almost double that you would find in hard liquor. Smaller amounts causing more problems, and when you're talking about children who could be potentially be alcohol poisoned, there are a host of symptoms than can occur."

While the FDA says you don't need to be concerned if your child eats after using hand sanitizer or accidentally licks their hand, experts say that swallowing just a tiny amount can cause poisoning in children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, alcohol poisoning symptoms include sleepiness, low blood sugar, seizures and coma, and can be life-threatening. 

Experts say if you suspect your child has ingested hand sanitizer, call the Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.

The AAP urges parents to keep hand sanitizers out of children's reach, and don't forget about travel-size bottles of sanitizer in purses, diaper bags, backpacks and cars. parents and caregivers also should supervise kids 5 and younger when they use hand sanitizer.