Killing Germs With Hand Sanitizers Could Harm Children

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Hand sanitizers are a convenient way to get rid of germs when soap and water are not not readily available, especially when it comes to small children.

Yvonne Sparks said when working with 4-year-olds, sanitizers help keep germs from spreading.

"I have it at school where we have our little children go over like when they use a kleenex for their nose or anything like that," Sparks said.

Grandmother Grace Ana Smith said she carries sanitizer for her grandson who sucks his thumb, so he doesn't put bacteria into his mouth.

"I also have the hand sanitizing packets in my purse for my grandson when we go to eat. I always sanitize his hands before we eat," Smith said.

It is so commonly used, most people probably do not consider what it is made of. St. Joseph Regional Health Center Emergency Room Doctor Bill Bass said it is made of a number of ingredients.

"It's a combination of ethanol alcohol and some denaturants, and emollients to keep your skin soft instead of drying it out," Bass said.

Bass said it kills germs effectively because it is 62 percent ethyl alcohol. According to one mother, that is why her child was rushed to the hospital.

In an email circulating over the internet, she describes how her 2-year-old daughter got hold of a container of hand sanitizer and swallowed a small amount. She said 10 minutes later the child's eyes were glassy and she was wobbly.

The mother also said her daughter's speech became slurred and hard to understand. The reason is that hand sanitizers contain some toxicity.

Bass said if a small child ingests a tablespoon of sanitizer--it could cause them to show signs of intoxication or poisoning

"Which would include sleepiness, drowsiness," Bass said. "Too much would even cause depressed respiration or nausea and vomiting."

Bass said hand sanitizers are still safe to use on small children, but parents and teachers need to administer it with extreme care and make sure children do not put it in their mouths.

"They must be treated as medicine or like any other cleanser and not just a simple cosmetic or decorative item," Bass said.

To read emails about incidents of children becoming ill from ingesting hand sanitizer click the link below.