Exposure to hand sanitisers and other cleaning products in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was increased promotion and use of topical antiseptics (especially hand sanitisers) and cleaning products to reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This study describes unintentional exposures (oral or ocular) to these substances by children during the first year (2020) of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the previous year (2019). Methods: This was a retrospective observational study of unintentional exposures reported to the Victorian Poisons Information Centre for the period 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020. Substances included topical antiseptics (including hand sanitisers), bleach, multipurpose cleaners, disinfectants and high-percentage ethanol products. We analysed data for two age groups; under 5 years and 5 to 14 years. Results: Oral exposures (ingestion or buccal) to topical antiseptics increased from 435 in 2019 to 882 in 2020 in the under 5 age group, with peak call numbers in 2020 coinciding with peaks in active COVID-19 daily case numbers. Oral exposures in older children (5–14 years) were lower (23 and 77 in 2019 and 2020, respectively). No children had moderate or severe symptoms at the time of the call to the Poisons Centre. Ocular exposures to topical antiseptics more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 (from 20 to 53 among children under 5 years, and 8 to 18 in older children). The majority of children with ocular exposure presented with mild symptoms; one had moderate symptoms. Changes in exposures to disinfectants, bleach and cleaners were smaller and not consistent with peaks in active COVID-19 cases. Conclusions: Unintentional oral exposures to topical disinfectants (mainly hand sanitiser) by young children increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and were more prevalent during periods of increased COVID-19 cases. While there were no cases of severe harm identified, the high number of exposures suggests that appropriate use and storage of hand sanitisers should be promoted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-749
Number of pages5
JournalClinical Toxicology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2022


  • COVID-19
  • exposure
  • Hand sanitiser
  • paediatric
  • topical antiseptic

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