The number of children accidentally ingesting hand sanitiser and eucalyptus oil has risen sharply since the start of the pandemic, warns the Tygerberg Poisons Information Centre.
The Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape has been getting many more reports of unintentional exposures in children, according to Tygerberg Hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar.
In previous years, exposures were predominately in children aged 5 and younger, but there has been an increase in calls across all age groups since the start of the pandemic, with hand sanitiser exposures climbing from 6 in 2019 to 160 in 2020 – more than a 26-fold increase.
The helpline has also seen the number of eucalyptus oil ingestions double from 21 in 2019 to 43 in 2020.
The new minimum standard of 70% alcohol to make sanitisers effective against Covid -19 makes even a small amount dangerous for children when ingested because it can cause alcohol poisoning. However, Ms Pienaar said parents need not be concerned if children licked their hands after they had used sanitiser.
Children who drink as little as 1ml of eucalyptus oil can experience seizures and nervous-system depression.
“Children with exposure to any amount of eucalyptus oil should be assessed at a medical facility,” Arina du Plessis, a poison information specialist from the Tygerberg Poisons Information Centre, said. “Parents and caregivers should be aware of the risks involved in exposure to essential oils. Always put the oils away every time you use them and store them in a place that a young child cannot reach.”
The poisons centre is a 24-hour service provided jointly by the Tygerberg Hospital and the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Contact it at 0861 555 777.