Investigates: Poison Control: Rising cases of children ingesting hand sanitizer in NE Florida

‘Potentially stronger than what you can get from the liquor store’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates a surge in cases of local children ingesting hand sanitizer and it’s being blamed on COVID.

Hand sanitizer shortages during the pandemic have been a constant, but there’s no shortage of kids being impacted by its potentially dangerous chemicals.

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“He likes to put it (hand sanitizer) on and then put his hands in his mouth,” says Marissa Cabrera who is a mother of an 18-month-old.

According to Florida’s Poison Control Centers 143, local children under 10 years old in Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Baker and Nassau counties have been treated for ingesting hand sanitizer from January 2020 to August 2021 — a 63% increase from before the pandemic spanning June 2018 through December 2019 when 89 kids were treated.

“Kids are very sensitive to the effects of alcohol,” says Dr. Chiemela Ubani, a toxicology fellow with Florida’s Poison Control Centers. He says hand sanitizers typically are up to 70% ethanol, meaning about 140 proof.

“That’s heavy stuff,” says Action News Jax Ben Becker. “It is potentially stronger than what you can get from the liquor store,” responded Ubani.

Florida’s Poison Control Centers says the number of children impacted includes those who have just licked their hands after putting hand sanitizer on, to those more serious cases where the child may have ingested a significant amount. These numbers include calls from both the public and healthcare professionals.

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As for Cabrera, she’s keeping a watchful eye for her child.

“We keep it (hand sanitizer) high away from him so he can’t get it.”

If you suspect your child accidentally ingested hand sanitizer or it splashes in their eye, call poison control for free, fast help at 1-800-222-1222. They are available 24 hours a day and everyone who answers the phone is a nurse, doctor or pharmacist.

Here’s a link to the FDA updates on hand sanitizers consumers should not use.