Child hospitalised after sanitising, then licking hands at WA school

A five-year-old child was hospitalised after ingesting hand sanitiser by licking their hands at a West Australian school, prompting the Health Department to again issue warnings about the "serious harm" ingesting the substance could have.

An Education Department spokeswoman said the young student became unwell in class last Monday after licking their hands once they had used the hand sanitiser provided to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

She said school staff immediately called the student’s parents, who picked their child up before seeking medical treatment at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Hand sanitiser has been a hot commodity since the detection of coronavirus in WA and the fight against the spread. With that, Education Minister Sue Ellery affirmed all school would have hand sanitiser once classes resumed.

Schools were provided with hand sanitatiser from the department’s stockpile if they did not have access to their own.

Since the use of hand sanitiser across the country has increased, poison centres have experienced a greater number of reports involving the product.

Education Department deputy director general for schools Stephen Baxter said there was nothing to suggest that there was a widespread misuse of hand sanitiser by students in schools and teachers were reminding students not to touch their mouth after its use.

“We want our students to be safe and to prevent the spread of germs in schools,” he said.

“Teachers encourage their students to frequently clean their hands and to do so safely.

“This includes reminding younger students not to touch their mouths after using hand sanitiser or soap.”

A WA Health Department spokeswoman said the antiseptic ethanol ingredient in hand sanitiser could cause serious harm in children and adults if ingested in sufficient quantities.

“In very young children, accidental exposure to small amounts, such as a young child licking their hands, will not cause toxicity,” she said.

“Across Australia, poisons centres have seen a recent increase in reports involving these products; however, serious cases of toxicity are very rare.

“Hand sanitiser is designed for topical use only and is toxic if ingested. Users should always follow the manufacturer’s directions.”

The spokeswoman said hand sanitiser bottles should be kept out of reach of children when not in use and adults should supervise their use in younger children.

“Consumers should purchase sanitiser from reputable suppliers in smaller bottles, properly packaged and labelled, and suitable for domestic use,” she said.

“Packaging should prevent accidental ingestion by children.

“Keep hand sanitiser in the original manufacturer’s packaging and do not use containers that could be mistaken as containing food or drink.”

If ingestion of hand sanitiser is suspected, the Poisons Information Centre should be immediately called on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) and urgent medical advice sought.

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