Sanitiser is for cleaning, not drinking

2020-05-05 06:00
Hand sanitisers should be used with care, especially around children.PHOTO: Samantha lee-Jacobs

Hand sanitisers should be used with care, especially around children.PHOTO: Samantha lee-Jacobs

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As enticing as the thought of taking a swig of a bottle of alcohol-based sanitiser might be for some, the department of health strongly advises against it.

With bottle stores remaining closed for Level 4 lockdown, sanitiser is the only legal substance containing alcohol currently being sold. And with the national government holding its position on not reopening liquor outlets during the period, desperation for an alcohol fix has led to many asking questions around sanitisers and its alcohol content.

In a Google search starting with “how to separate”, the question “how to separate alcohol from sanitiser” appears second on the overall search predictions.

Head of provincial health, Dr Keith Cloete, warns that this should not be consumed.

“The issue of hand sanitisers and its alcohol content has come on our radar,” says Cloete.

He states that while they did not think to have to educate people around the dangers of consuming alcohol-based sanitisers, the Covid-19 pandemic has created unique circumstances that see the government and officials needing to create new approaches to dealing with matters and education.

“It could have been expected that there would be complications of what people see as potential to getting alcohol out of the sanitisers,” says Cloete.

Sanitiser production

With alcoholic beverage producers and bottlers, South African Breweries (SAB) and Distell among others, turning off its beverage production and switching to sanitiser manufacturing, chances are this could add to the confusion of whether or not it is safe to consume. But these are strictly for hygiene purposes.

According to Zoleka Lisa, vice-president of corporate affairs at SAB, the decision to heed president Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to assist in battling the Covid-19 pandemic was an easy one.

“The health and safety of our people remain our number one priority and we are committed to helping the government in any way we can. In this time of uncertainty, what we know for sure is that we need to show our commitment to South Africa in any way we can,” says Lisa.

“We want to be part of the solution and in the absence of a vaccine, we can use our voice, our network and capabilities to assist with encouraging good hygiene practices, and ensuring – as far as we can – the safety of the frontline health workers who are fighting this pandemic.”

Around 60 000 bottles of hand sanitiser have already been delivered to hospitals nationwide, and SAB was hoping to deliver around 100 000 bottles of sanitiser by the end of April.

Western Cape minister of agriculture, Ivan Meyer, recently also visited Distell’s manufacturing plant to ensure all was on track.

“Distell’s decision to commit 100 000F of alcohol, to be used to produce sanitisers as well as a variety of other hygienic and sanitising products, should be lauded,” says Meyer.

“It is an example of what is possible when a key role-player within the agriculture value chain displays good corporate citizenship by responding positively to the call for solidarity in our fight against the Covid-19 virus.”

The sanitisers will be distributed free to vulnerable communities across the nation as a way to encourage good hygiene practices.

Child safety

With many sanitisers being bottled in containers similar in appearance to cooldrink or water bottles, questions surrounding the threat to children’s safety have been raised.

For March, the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape (PIHWC) has seen an increase in inquiries due to children ingesting hand sanitisers. This has caused health authorities to issue an urgent notice to parents and caregivers to exercise caution with hand sanitisers as it may be harmful due to its alcohol content.

“Most children who get a taste or a lick of hand sanitiser experience only mild symptoms, if any, and can be safely managed at home. Hand sanitiser tastes bad and can result in a burning sensation, so most children will not swallow an amount large enough to produce symptoms. However, if a child does drink hand sanitiser, it can result in alcohol poisoning,” says Carine Marks, director of the Tygerberg Hospital Poisons Information Centre.

Children who have ingested more than the equivalent of 0.4 ml per kg of ethanol or who are showing signs of more than mild sleepiness should be observed in a health facility for at least four hours. Marks says children with only mild symptoms should be given food to eat to maintain blood glucose levels.

“Safety of children, that is an important consideration. While we are doing this we discover a whole lot of things and the whole thing around poisons and dangers to children inhaling or ingesting things is important,” says Cloete.

He maintains that parents should observe basic safety precautions as they would with any other detergent, keeping it out of children’s reach is key.

Cloete says residents should be reminded that sanitisers are for convenience and that soap and water are as effective as sanitiser.

Marks says adults should monitor the use of hand sanitiser by children to ensure that a proper amount is used and that hands wet with the sanitiser are not put in the mouth.

Large containers of sanitiser should also be discouraged as with smaller amounts children are less likely to ingest enough to result in harm.

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