EDMONTON -- There’s been a 73 per cent spike in the number of calls to Alberta’s Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) since the start of the pandemic, according to the University of Alberta’s Injury Prevention Centre release.

The growing obsession with the elimination of germs during COVID-19 has had an unintended consequence of poisonings due to hand sanitizers, disinfectants and household cleaners.

Kathy Belton, associate director of the Injury Prevention Centre said: “While these products are essential for cleaning and preventing the spread of the virus, when they are used incorrectly, they can cause unintentional poisoning and serious injuries.” 

“When they are left in common areas and within the reach of children, kids can accidentally ingest them or get some in their eyes,” she said. 


According to Belton, calls due to hand sanitizers went up 200 per cent in comparison to the numbers from 2019, with an eightfold increase in calls about adolescents between 13 and 19 years old. There were also five times more calls about seniors over the age of 60.

The medical director of PADIS, Mark Yarema, said the uptick in hand sanitizer exposure calls related to teens is likely because of easy access to it in places like homes, schools, fitness facilities and shopping malls. He said there’s also the chance teens may be experimenting with drinking the sanitizer to get high.

Belton added: “Hand sanitizer in particular has been packaged in beer cans and wine bottles. If you think about it, if there's a beer can with hand sanitizer in it, an unsuspecting inebriated person could mistake it for a real beer.”

Yarema said the same applies to young children: “Some hand sanitizers can be brightly coloured and have fruit or other foods on the labels, as well as appealing smells that can make them tempting.”

According to the release, no serious effects or outcomes have come from these recent exposures.


When ingested, hand sanitizers can lower blood sugar, slow heart rate and breathing. According to the release, a poisoned child may appear drunk, with an unsteady gait, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting and drowsiness.

For cleaning products, symptoms can vary on whether the product was swallowed, inhaled or splashed in the eyes or on the skin. Red watery eyes, mouth pain, drooling, choking, gagging, difficulty breathing and stomach pain are all possible signs of poisoning.


  • Supervise children under the age of 12
  • Read all labels
  • Store hand sanitizer and cleaning products out of reach of children
  • Keep products in their original containers
  • Wear gloves when cleaning
  • Save the PADIS emergency number, 1-800-331-1414

According to the 2020 Evidence Summary on the Prevention of Poisoning in Canada, unintended poisonings are responsible for more deaths than vehicle collisions in Canada.