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Hand Washing: The First Step in Safety

Mom and child washing hands


FOR RELEASE: March 18, 2020

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - With all the concerns around flu season and now the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the CDC recommends washing hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing in order to reduce the risk of infection. 

Using hot soap and water is the best way to kill many germs and eliminate most chemicals, but if soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Parents should read more on how to be diligent to prevent hand sanitizer poisonings.

While a child who tastes a tiny amount of hand sanitizer from his or her hands is unlikely to become sick, a child ingesting any more than a taste could be at risk for alcohol poisoning.

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. By comparison, wine and beer contain about 10-15% and 5-10% alcohol, respectively. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning in children causing confusion, vomiting and drowsiness. In severe cases, respiratory arrest and even death can occur.

"As of February 29, 2020, poison control centers have managed 3,260 exposure cases about hand sanitizer in children 12 years and younger."

 The Upstate New York Poison Center recommends:

  • Hand sanitizers be kept out of reach of children at all times and used only with adult supervision.
  • When using hand sanitizer, apply a dime-sized amount to dry hands and rub hands together until completely dry.
  • If you suspect your child 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.
  • For more information on preventing exposures to hand sanitizers, review fact sheet on hand sanitizers from the Upstate New York Poison Center and make the information available to family, friends, patients and clients.

Tips for using hand sanitizers

Source: Retrieved on 3/09/20 - https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html  

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.

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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.