Researchers warn of unintended poisonings from hand sanitizer, cleaning products during COVID-19

Our obsession with killing germs during the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unintended and dangerous consequence, according to the University of Alberta’s Injury Prevention Centre: a sharp increase in unintentional poisonings due to hand sanitizers, disinfectants and household cleaners.

Calls to Alberta’s Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) related to these products have increased by 73 per cent since the advent of COVID, according to Kathy Belton, associate director of the Injury Prevention Centre, which is run by the School of Public Health

“While these products are essential for cleaning and preventing the spread of the virus, when they are used incorrectly, they can cause unintentional poisoning and serious injuries,” Belton said. 

“When they are left in common areas and within the reach of children, kids can accidentally ingest them or get some in their eyes.”

Calls due to hand sanitizers went up by 200 per cent over 2019 numbers, Belton reported, with an eightfold increase in calls about adolescents between 13 and 19 years old and five times more calls about seniors over 60. 

Confusing colours, flavours

The increase in hand sanitizer exposure calls related to teens is likely due to increased availability in places such as homes, schools, fitness facilities and shopping malls, said Mark Yarema, medical director of PADIS. There is also the possibility that teens may be experimenting with drinking hand sanitizer to get a high, he warned.

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