Use that sanitiser prudently and cautiously

Aug 30, 2020 08:41 PM IST

In the last five months since Covid-19 forced everyone to reach for the alcohol-based hand sanitisers in a big way, many sanitiser-related accidents and injuries have been reported from around the world. Some of these incidents should really make us sit up , take note and exercise utmost caution while using the hand rub.

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Let me begin with a case reported from Gassco, Norway, that alerts us to a danger that most of us are unaware of- the deadly combination of alcohol-based sanitiser and static electricity. In April, an employee of Gassco sanitised his hands with an alcohol-based hand rub and touched a metal surface, when the hands were still wet. Due to static electricity, the vapour from the hand sanitiser ignited with an almost invisible flame on both his hands. The employee rushed to a sink and immediately extinguished the flames, but suffered first and second degree burns on both the hands.

This incidence calls for utmost caution while using hand sanitisers, particularly in the winter months, when , because of the dry weather, static electricity is more prevalent. I would particularly warn those individuals who experience static shocks (and sparks) more than others, on touching a door knob or a car handle or any metallic part for that matter, in dry weather. Remember not to touch anything with hands which are still wet from the sanitiser. To put it differently, do not use more than the quantity required to disinfect the hands and wait till your hands are completely dry and the liquid or the gel has completely evaporated before touching anything. I would suggest similar precautions while operating an electric switch or any electric gadget that could give out a spark.

I must mention here that a severe burn injury caused to an 11-year-old girl in a Children’s hospital in Portland, Oregon, USA, in 2013, was traced to fumes from the sanitiser spilled on the girl’s dress, igniting on account of static electricity. Olive oil used on her head to remove the glue used for an EEG test earlier and had dripped on to her dress, fed the flames further, the report on the cause of the fire said. There are similar reports of burn injuries caused by static electricity and sanitizers in two hospitals in the United States – in 2006 and 2002.

Alcohol evaporates readily at room temperature and it is these vapours that catch fire. In March this year, a 44-year old resident of Rewari, Haryana, suffered 35 per cent burn injuries while cleaning his cell phone and keys with an alcohol-based sanitiser in the kitchen, near a source of fire. According to the hospital where he was admitted for treatment, he spilled some of the liquid on to his clothes during the process and the fumes from the alcohol reached the fire -- his wife was cooking on a gas stove nearby -- and before he could even realise what was happening, his clothes were on fire. So remember not to use the hand rub near any source of fire.

Today, wherever you go -- shops, hospitals, elevators, entrance of housing colonies, airports, public offices -- you find a large bottle of sanitiser. Where soap and water are not readily available, use of alcohol-based sanitiser is imperative in these times of Covid pandemic. However, ophthalmologists are reporting cases of redness, irritation, dryness, discomfort and itching in the eyes, caused by increased use of sanitisers or the constituents of the sanitiser getting into the eye , every time you pump the dispenser to release the sanitiser spray.

In fact a paper on the topic published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology recently (“Sanitiser aerosol driven ocular surface disease -- a Covid-19 repercussion”) expresses concern over this and advises consumers to close the eyes while pressing the dispenser and also keep the dispenser below eye level during usage, to prevent the sanitizer from getting into the eyes.

So use the sanitiser prudently and cautiously.

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