Pediatric hand sanitizer exposures reported to United States poison centers, 2017–2021

Varun Vohra, Karima Lelak, Mark I. Neuman, Michael S. Toce, Liying Zhang, Steven J. Korzeniewski, Samantha Bauer, Robert D. Welch, Usha Sethuraman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic increased demand for alcohol-based hand sanitizers. We aimed to describe the epidemiological trends in pediatric alcohol-based hand sanitizer cases reported to United States poison centers. We characterized clinically significant pediatric reports involving alcohol-based hand sanitizer products before and during the pandemic and methanol-containing hand sanitizers during the pandemic. Methods: We included all single-substance cases involving alcohol-based hand sanitizers reported to the National Poison Data System among children ≤ 19 years from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021, and methanol-containing hand sanitizers from 23 June 2020 to 31 December 2021. Multiple product exposures and non-human exposures were excluded. Clinically significant outcomes included moderate or major effects or death. Results: There were 95,718 alcohol-based hand sanitizer pediatric cases during the study period. Most (n = 89,521; 94%) were unintentional, occurred by ingestion (n = 89,879; 93.9%), occurred at home, and were managed at the exposure site (n = 89,774; 93.8%). Common symptoms were vomiting (n = 2,969; 3.1%), coughing (n = 1,102; 1.2%), ocular irritation (n = 1,244; 1.3%), and drowsiness (n = 981; 1.0%). Most children (n = 3,937; 66.2%) managed at a health care facility were treated and released; a minority were admitted (n = 527; 9.0%). Few children (n = 81; 1.4%) were admitted to the intensive care unit. The prevalence of clinically significant cases increased in 2020 and 2021, compared to 2017. Population-adjusted rates, by state, of alcohol-based hand sanitizer cases ranged from 280 to 2,700 per million children. Of the 540 reported cases involving methanol-containing hand sanitizers, the majority (n = 255) occurred in July 2020. Thirteen cases (2.4%) had clinically significant outcomes. The prevalence of clinically significant cases remained similar in 2020 and 2021 and exhibited lower prevalence compared to alcohol-based products. Population-adjusted rates, by state, ranged from fewer than 0.9 to 40 per million children. Conclusions: Clinically significant pediatric cases involving alcohol-based hand sanitizers increased during the pandemic and remained elevated in 2021. Cases involving methanol-containing products were less frequent. Our findings may inform heightened product quality control and regulatory oversight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-469
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2023


  • Hand sanitizers
  • methanol
  • pediatric
  • poison centers
  • toxicity


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