Kids, addicts keep poisons helpline, Sanca on their toes in ...

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Kids, addicts keep poisons helpline, Sanca on their toes in lockdown

The helpline says children are ingesting hand sanitiser, with 90% of incidents from ‘accidental exposure’

Journalist
Children in SA are ingesting hand sanitiser that's not properly stored.
Don't hand it to them Children in SA are ingesting hand sanitiser that's not properly stored.
Image: 123rf/ Chris Elwell

An increasing number of SA children are downing hand sanitiser they are easily accessing in their homes in lockdown.

The Covid-19 outbreak has sparked an unprecedented demand for hand sanitiser, which many South Africans have stockpiled.

The Poisons Information Helpline, run by the Red Cross Poison Centre and Tygerberg Poisons Centre, has received a number of calls from frantic parents whose children ingested the product in the past two months.

“We received one call from a teenager who intentionally ingested hand sanitiser.

“More than 90% of hand sanitiser calls were accidental exposures,” said the helpline’s Dr Cindy Stephen.

“Hand sanitiser has not been safely stored out of the reach of children, who are naturally inquisitive.

Reports indicate that South African adults are ingesting hand sanitiser with a high alcohol content.
desperate Reports indicate that South African adults are ingesting hand sanitiser with a high alcohol content.
Image: AFP/ Philip Fong

“Of greater importance is to ensure the safe storage of all other harmful substances that young children may access in the home, especially during lockdown, such as medication, household cleaners, paraffin and pesticides.”

Stephen said none of the children who consumed the substance had been hospitalised.

“A child of one to two years old needs to drink about a teaspoon of a 70%-alcohol hand sanitiser to be at risk of developing any harmful effects.”

It is not only curious children who have been taking sips of alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

In the face of government’s ongoing ban on alcohol, adults have been ingesting hand sanitiser in the hope they will get their fix.

Hand sanitiser has not been safely stored out of the reach of children, who are naturally inquisitive.
Dr Cindy Stephen

Reports of people ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitiser have emerged in the Eastern Cape.

The SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence’s (Sanca) head, Adrie Vermeulen, said the organisation was aware of such reports.

“The ban is causing desperation in people with severe substance-use disorders.

“Sanca agrees with the ban on alcohol, as it is linked to making people vulnerable to being infected. It is also linked to gender-based violence.

“But we are concerned that sections of the population are addicted to alcohol and can’t stop.

“There is also limited access to treatment facilities, as many are only opening on Monday as part of stage 4 of lockdown.

“These desperate behaviours are problematic and we are concerned for the health of our clients.

“This shows again that we don’t understand that addiction is a medical condition that affects the functioning of the brain.

“As the addiction progresses, the frontal cortex is compromised and the brain is controlled by the impulse to use, no matter the consequences.

“We see this irrational and illogical behaviour all the time, but the lockdown has forced people to become more aware and desperate,” said Vermeulen.

Stephen said the dangers related to adults drinking significant volumes of alcohol-based hand sanitiser depended on the type of alcohol used to make it, “as well as many other ingredients added to a particular product”.

“Essentially, the dangers are the same as far as ethanol poisoning/intoxication or isopropyl alcohol poisoning.

“Other effects may also occur, depending on the constituents of a specific hand sanitiser, such as those containing chlorhexidine.”

Stephen said denatured alcohol should be used in hand sanitiser, making it unfit for human consumption.

“This is done by adding one or more chemicals to the ethanol to make it taste bitter.”

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