Experts call for warnings on dangers of swallowing hand sanitiser as poisonings rise

Poisonings from swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitiser have more than doubled in a year, figures have

Poisonings from swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitiser have more than doubled in a year, figures have shown, with experts calling for more warnings about the danger.

Incidents reported to the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) rose from 155 between January and September 2019 to 398 in the first nine months of this year.

Researcher Georgia Richards, of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said more needed to be done to protect children, the elderly and those with mental health issues from accidentally ingesting hand sanitiser.

Two deaths occurred in England before the Covid pandemic, including that of a 30-year-old woman found dead in her hospital bed after hospital staff invited patients to collect sanitiser from a dispenser using plastic cups. Although the coroner reported the incident to the Department of Health, there is no evidence of action being taken to avoid similar poisonings. 

In a second case, a 76-year-old man suffering from dementia unintentionally swallowed an unknown quantity of alcohol-based hand sanitiser foam which had been attached to the foot of his hospital bed.

Ms Richards said the second death and many future poisonings may have been prevented if more action had been taken after the first incident.

“The combination of increased demand and exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitisers, and the negative impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak on mental health, social support, financial security and health services is a cause of serious concern,” she said. 

“This complex interplay of issues may lead to a further increase in poisonings and deaths that could be mitigated if recommendations from these deaths were implemented.

“While governments and public health authorities have successfully heightened our awareness of, and need for, better hand hygiene during the Covid-19 outbreak, they must also make the public aware of the potential harms and encourage the reporting of such harms to poisons information centres.”

The article, published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, calls for a public health campaign to educate people on the dangers of hand sanitiser. It also says alcohol gels should be kept in secure lockable dispensers with clear warning labels. 

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