New international research has highlighted the potential danger of using of alcohol-based hand rub in hospitals, prompting calls to increase the security of hand rub dispensers.
The research, published in this week's British Medical Journal, was conducted by experts from London's Guys and St Thomas Hospital and the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
Professor of Medicine and Toxicology at the University of Newcastle, Professor Alison Jones, said it was the first time experts had looked at the potential dangers of using alcohol-based rubs.
"In the battle to fight hospital-acquired infections, alcohol gel dispensers are now commonly placed in clinical areas of hospitals and care facilities," Professor Jones said.
"We compared the number of people affected by hand rub either by ingestion or contact with eyes over a 16 month period before and after the widespread introduction of the hand rubs.
"Our research showed a more than doubling of the cases of exposure, up from 23 to 50 during that time."
Accidental cases of ingestion were found to occur in very young children, the elderly and confused people, while intentional ingestion was exclusively found in people with an alcohol dependency that were seeking the desired affect.
The study showed that the more serious effects were seen in those who ingested more than 500ml of the hand rub. This primarily occurred when it was mistaken for water and in cases of alcohol dependency.
"While we are keen to stress that poisoning due to alcohol hand rub remains relatively uncommon, it has increased significantly since its widespread introduction into hospitals and other care facilities," Professor Jones said.
"As a result, we are recommending that in areas that are easily accessible by high risk patients, larger hand rub dispensers holding 500ml or more should be placed in secure holders to prevent accidental or intentional ingestion.
"Further, in order to tackle the risks associated with alcohol hand rub ingestion, but keeping in mind the benefits of its use, there needs to be a multidisciplinary and coordinated approach from risk managers, toxicologists and infection control specialists."
The research has been published in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal under the title 'Lesson of the Week: Alcohol hand rubs: hygiene and hazard."