[Skip to Content]

New poisoning fears as students head back to school from home or the classroom

Student studying at home

FOR RELEASE: September 10, 2020

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – With a new school year upon us, whether your child will be attending school from home or the classroom, poisoning potentials are all around us. Last school year, the number one call to our poison center concerning children six to 19 years old was for pain medicine. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen to be exact. During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, our poison center, based in Syracuse, N.Y., answered questions and handled poisoning problems mostly for personal care products (including hand sanitizers) and cleaning products. This new school year will serve as yet another reminder to put ALL cleaning products up, away, and out of sight of children.

"Just like the end of last school year, this new school year could be another challenging one for families with the distractions of parents working from home and children going to school at home. There is a greater opportunity for unintentional or accidental poisonings,” says Michele Caliva, administrative director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, “Compounding this situation is the increased use of hand sanitizers and cleaning agents to keep families safe from COVID-19. These products are often left in accessible places and in easy to use containers making it easy for a poisoning to occur."

Our case load regarding hand sanitizers more than doubled from March to August of last year and March to August of this year (when COVID-19 was identified in the United States). During those months in 2019, we managed 262 cases. The same time period in 2020 we managed 564 cases. Most of the calls regarding hand sanitizers came with questions or concerns for children under 5. The good news is a majority of our 2020 hand sanitizer cases were managed at home with poison center support and did not require a hospitalization, however, 51 people received some form of care in a hospital.

This serves as a reminder that a child ingesting any more than a taste of hand sanitizer could be at risk for alcohol poisoning and to call us immediately. The alcohol content in hand sanitizer ranges from 40% to 95%. Most hand sanitizers contain more than 60% ethyl alcohol, a stronger alcohol concentration than most hard liquors. On top of this, methanol, or wood alcohol, is popping up as a new additive. It is a toxic substance that is not approved for use in hand sanitizers. It is often used in pesticides, paint thinner and antifreeze. Methanol can be deadly if ingested. Children especially are at high risk as they often explore their surroundings by taste.

Additionally, the Upstate New York Poison Center has created a video to help answer some of the top questions we receive at our poison center located at Upstate University Hospital. Feel free to share with students, staff and parents.

Upstate New York Poison Center reminders:

  • Hand sanitizers should be kept out of reach of children at all times and used only with adult supervision.
  • If you suspect someone has ingested hand sanitizer or if you have a question, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
  • Do not drink bleach under any circumstances.
  • Keep cleaning products out of sight of children. Either up and away or locked in a cabinet.
  • Do not leave cleaning products sitting on a table/counter. The colorful packaging can make them enticing for children.
  • If a person is having difficulty breathing or unresponsive, always call 911.

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest information.

About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.