Last month, six California teenagers were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning after they got drunk on hand sanitizer. Questions are now being asked whether hand sanitizers are the latest household products teens drink for alcohol.
ABC News reports that health officials are worried because the alcohol content of hand sanitizers is very high. According to ABC News, liquid hand sanitizer is 62 to 65 percent ethyl alcohol or ethanol. This is the same as the ingredient in beer, wine and spirits. For comparison, a bottle of vodka is 80-proof, while liquid hand sanitizer is 120-proof. According to Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicology consultant at the Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, “A few swallows is all it takes to get a person to get the intoxicated effects of alcohol."
Rangan said the use of liquid hand sanitizers as source of alcohol for consumption is “a rapidly emerging trend." About 2,600 cases have been reported in California since 2010 and it is fast growing into a national problem in the U.S.
Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, told ABC News: “It’s not just localized to us. Since 2009 we can see on YouTube it’s in all regions of the country. We see it in the South, in the Midwest, in the East.”
According to doctors, hand sanitizer can produce the same effects of intoxication as drinking excessively large amounts of alcoholic drinks, and may lead to a coma. Rangan said long-term abuse of hand sanitizers could lead to brain, liver and kidney damage.
ABC News reports teenagers use salt to break up the alcohol from the sanitizer, and points to online evidence of widespread use of sanitizers among teenagers. Distillation instructions can be found on the Internet. Rangan said: “Methods to distill it can be found through friends and the Internet, but straight ingestion of the product without distillation is also common."
Dr. Sean Nordt, director of toxicology at the USC Los Angeles County Emergency Department, says sometimes they see cases of children accidentally consuming small amounts of hand sanitizer, but that in recent times they are seeing an increasing number of cases of deliberate consumption by underage persons who cannot purchase alcoholic drinks legally. He said: ”We get worried about children getting into these, but it is different from an adolescent who is trying to drink half a bottle to get drunk."
CBS News reports that Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said he has seen cases of teens who ingested hand sanitizers at school as a "dare." He said: "They denied drinking any 'alcohol', had no smell of alcohol on their breath, but when their blood alcohol was quite elevated, they later admitted to drinking the hand sanitizer.
Glatter recommended that warning labels be placed on hand sanitizers to alert parents and the public about the risks. He said: "Officials in institutions where these products are available have a duty to inform people about the alcohol content in these products, and subsequent dangers if ingested."
Arbogast said: "Over the years, they (teens) have ingested all sorts of things. Cough syrup had reached a very sexy point where young people were using it...We want to be sure this doesn't take on the same trend."
For domestic safety, Arbogast recommends foam hand sanitizer, but said: “...any hand sanitizer will be at risk for alcohol poisoning, as the foam type is still 62 percent ethyl alcohol." Rangan warned parents to treat hand sanitizers like "we treat any medication in the home as far as safety is concerned. Keep it out of reach, out of sight, out of mind when not in use.”
Nordt said he hoped parents and store clerks would be more vigilant and monitor sales of hand sanitizers. He said: "Most stores will sell it to an adolescent without thinking twice. Maybe now they will.”