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Apparently, this is something the public needs to hear in 2016: Please stop drinking hand sanitizer.
The common disinfectant is typically used on, well, hands. But a recent anecdote from a former Wells Fargo banker in an article in The New York Times, who claimed to drink it as a stress reliever, brought the issue into the national spotlight, the newspaper also reports. And earlier this month, it was parodied on “Saturday Night Live,” when Emily Blunt’s character needs to have her stomach pumped after downing hand sanitizer.
Perplexing as it may seem, drinking the alcohol-based sanitizer appears to be a growing problem. Hand sanitizer exposure reports ticked up to 19,729 in 2016, an increase from 17,821 in 2011. That said, just 1,394 of last year’s reports involved intentionally swallowing hand sanitizer, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. It led to two deaths.
Exposure is most common in children under 6 years old who discover it at home or in a bag and drink it accidentally – sometimes by licking their hands after applying the sanitizer. Underage teens, meanwhile, sometimes turn to hand sanitizer to achieve a “high alcohol content thrill,” Dr. Anthony F. Suffredini told The New York Times. Suffredini’s 2012 research examining hand sanitizer incidents found that between 2005 and 2009, there was an uptick in “youngsters and adults” who claimed to drink hand sanitizer on purpose, reports The New York Times.
What’s concerning about hand sanitizer is that it has greater alcohol content than other sources, and some varieties are made with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, which is very potent, Alexander Garrard, a toxicologist and director of the Washington Poison Center in Seattle, told The New York Times.
Aside from the obvious health concerns, there’s another reason to avoid drinking hand sanitizer: “It just doesn’t taste good,” Garrard said.