Cleaning for COVID-19 — and Keeping the Kids Safe, Too

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Parent's hands using sanitizer on child's hands Well into the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone knows the drill to limit becoming infected: wear a face mask and stay six feet apart, frequently wash high-touch surfaces like doorknobs with a disinfectant, and clean your hands often with soap or hand sanitizer.

It’s the last two COVID-19 precautions, disinfecting your home and hands, that can lead to unexpected poisoning in your home.

In fact, during the early weeks of the pandemic, Poison Control Centers across the United States, like the one operated by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia serving Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware, reported a 14% to 20% uptick in calls related to exposures to cleansers, disinfectants and hand sanitizers compared to the same months in 2019 and 2018.

And approximately half of all exposures were in children 5 years and younger. Yikes!

Here are tips for how you can keep the COVID-19 germs at bay while still keeping your kids safe.

  1. Try to do your disinfecting when the little ones are outside or in another room. Make sure surfaces are dry and any fumes have dissipated before they return.
  2. Read labels and use the proper amount to kill germs.
  3. Mixing chemicals causes big problems. Be extra careful to never combine bleach with either ammonia or anything acidic (such as vinegar, toilet bowl cleaners, drain openers). The combination creates chloramine and chlorine gas, which can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs and may even require medical treatment. If this happens, immediately leave the area and get yourself and the kids to safety!
  4. Be sure to keep cleaning products locked up where toddlers can’t access them. This can be more of a challenge when you are cleaning more often than usual.
  5. Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of curious little hands. Health experts recommend using hand sanitizer that has a 60% to 95% alcohol content to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. For comparison, drinking alcohol normally contains 5% to 40% alcohol. This is why swallowing just a tiny amount of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in children. Alcohol poisoning symptoms include sleepiness and low blood sugar, and when exposure is extreme, seizures and coma. Children may need immediate medical attention. Keep the big bottles up and away — even though it may be inconvenient.
  6. Note that if you keep a travel-size container of hand sanitizer in your purse, backpack or diaper bag, those need to be placed in a spot inaccessible to your young children. Kids are clever and will easily find the container “hidden” in the bottom or side pocket of a bag.
  7. Avoid sweet-smelling brands of hand sanitizer or any with colorful/cartoon packaging with your children, as they can tempt young children to taste it.
  8. Rub hand sanitizer into your baby’s or toddler’s hands until it is completely dry, to avoid inadvertent swallowing if they were to stick their fingers into their mouths right away. Always supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer.
  9. You may have heard about hand sanitizer recalls over the summer. Some were tainted with a poisonous chemical called methanol. Our best advice is to stick with brands you know from trusted retailers as much as possible. Check the FDA’s recall list if you are using a new brand.
  10. Remember, in the home, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is our preferred way of keeping your hands clean, anyway!

If you believe your child has ingested any amount of hand sanitizer or has been exposed to cleanser or disinfectants, immediately call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. The toll-free, multilingual hotline is available 24/7.

Contributed by: Anthony Jaworski, PharmD, BCCCP, Specialist in Poison Information with the Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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