Is hand sanitizer toxic? In the hands of a child, quite possibly.
According to a recent analysis from the Georgia Poison Center, children are accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer — a potentially dangerous product that typically contains between 45 and 95 percent alcohol — in rapidly increasing numbers.
By comparison, wine and beer typically contain only about 12 and 5 percent, respectively.
Since 2010, there has been a 400 percent increase in calls to poison control centers across the US related to kids younger than 12 ingesting hand sanitizer, reports CNN.
"Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there's a percentage of them going to the emergency room," said Director of the Georgia Poison Center Gaylord Lopez, PharmD, in an interview with CNN.
This is an alarming trend in light of the potentially deadly consequences linked to these accidents.
According to Dr. Lopez, ingesting even small amounts of hand sanitizer — as little as two or three squirts in some cases — can cause alcohol poisoning in children.
Alcohol poisoning is a serious, sometimes fatal consequence of ingesting large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. It can cause confusion, vomiting, drowsiness and even death.
Nhaijah Russell, 6, is just one child who got dangerously drunk after swallowing only three or four squirts of hand sanitizer. She arrived to the emergency room slurring her words and unable to walk, CNN reports.
Chris Ritchey, MD, who treated the little girl at Gwinnett Medical Center in Atlanta, told CNN that Nhaijah's blood alcohol level was 0.179 when she arrived at the ER — twice the legal limit for an adult.
Because Nhaijah fell and hit her head during the ordeal, she was kept at the hospital overnight.
"That was very scary," Nhaijah's mother Ortoria Scott told CNN. "It could have been very lethal for my child."
According to Dr. Lopez, there is an increasing need for parents and teachers to keep an eye out for kids who may be at risk of ingesting hand sanitizer. While younger kids may do so accidentally, older kids may try it deliberately. To that end, Dr. Lopez wrote a letter to Georgia's school systems last week in a bid to curb the trend.
"A kid is not thinking this is bad for them," Dr. Lopez said. "A lot of the more attractive [hand sanitizers] are the ones that are scented. There are strawberry, grape, orange-flavored hand sanitizers that are very appealing to kids."