With growing concern about the flu, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (like Purell) are being place in homes, schools, supermarkets, and many other places.  These products use alcohol as a base, and there have been stories, fueled by the media and Internet, that the high alcohol content of these products could pose a health hazard to children.
To see how much reality there might be to these stories, researchers at a regional poison center reviewed all calls they received concerning exposure to these products among children under 6 years of age over a recent 7-year period.
There were 847 children who had been exposed with an average age of just under 2 years. None of the children experienced effects that were considered moderate or major, nor were there any deaths due to these exposures.
The authors conclude that “children of this age have frequent hand-to-mouth activity and environmental curiosity, making the application or availability of a hand sanitizer the perfect situation for an exposure to occur.”  Despite this, and the fact that alcohol-based products have the potential to cause some toxic effects, “the benefits of prevention of illness outweigh the hazards when used in a supervised situation.”  (Pediatric  Emergency  Care, October, 2009, pp.665-666)
COMMENT: This report is reassuring, particularly in these months when concerns about transmitting flu have made hand sanitizers such an important part of good hygiene. At the same time, this report serves to remind us that these hand sanitizers do indeed contain relatively large amounts of alcohol, and like so many other medicines and related products, they should be kept out of the reach of children and should only be used with appropriate supervision.