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Kids are getting dangerously drunk on hand sanitizers

If it smells like strawberries and tastes like strawberries, then it should be strawberries, right? Except that when 6-year-old Nhaijah Russell drank the clear, tasty “strawberry” liquid, she ended up being rushed to the hospital — slurring her words and unable to walk — and drunk instead.

Just a few squirts of the “tasty” hand sanitizer was all it took to have her blood-alcohol level soaring to 0.179 — twice what’s considered legally drunk in an adult, according to Dr. Chris Ritchey, who treated her in the emergency room at Gwinnett Medical Center. In a CNN article, doctors reportedly had to watch Nhaijah overnight for signs of brain trauma, since the alcohol had caused her to fall and hit her head.

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With their fruity scents and colorful packaging, it’s not surprising that poison control centres across the United States have seen nearly a 400 per cent increase in calls about young kids ingesting hand sanitizer.

“Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there’s a percentage of them going to the emergency room,” said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, the centre’s director, in the CNN article. The amount of alcohol in hand sanitizer ranges from 45 per cent to 95 per cent. Ingesting even small amounts — as little as two or three squirts in some cases — can cause alcohol poisoning. By comparison, wine and beer contain about 12 per cent and 5 per cent alcohol, Lopez said.

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Whether these kids are doing it intentionally to get drunk, on a dare from friends or simply because it looks “tasty” doesn’t really matter, because the dangerous consequences are the same, and according to the Ontario Poison Centre, children should be supervised when using it. A single “squirt” should be spread over the hands and then allowed to completely dry. That way the alcohol evaporates, and no further risk of absorption then exists. Licking of the hands after the sanitizer is dry carries no chance of alcohol intoxication.

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