Background: During the first wave of COVID-19, many Iranians were poisoned by ingesting hand sanitizers and/or alcoholic beverages to avoid viral infection. To assess whether the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increased prevalence of accidental hand sanitizer/alcoholic beverage exposure in children and adolescents, we compared pediatric hospitalization rates during COVID-19 and the previous year. For poisoning admissions during COVID-19, we also evaluated the cause by age and clinical outcomes. Methods: This retrospective data linkage study evaluated data from the Legal Medicine Organization (reporting mortalities) and hospitalization data from nine toxicology referral centers for alcohol-poisoned patients (age 0 to 18 years) for the study period (February 23 to June 22, 2020) and the pre-COVID-19 reference period (same dates in 2019). Results: Hospitalization rates due to ethanol and methanol exposure were significantly higher in 2020 (n = 375) than 2019 (n = 202; OR [95% CI] 1.9 [1.6, 2.2], p < 0.001). During COVID-19, in patients ≤15 years, the odds of intoxication from hand sanitizers were significantly higher than from alcoholic beverages, while in 15- to 18-year-olds, alcoholic beverage exposure was 6.7 times more common (95% CI 2.8, 16.1, p < 0.001). Of 375 children/adolescents hospitalized for alcoholic beverage and hand sanitizer exposure in 2020, six did not survive. The odds of fatal outcome were seven times higher in 15- to 18-year-olds (OR (95% CI) 7.0 (2.4, 20.1); p < 0.001). Conclusion: The Iranian methanol poisoning outbreak during the first wave of COVID-19 was associated with significantly increased hospitalization rates among children and adolescents—including at least six pediatric in-hospital deaths from poisoning. Public awareness needs to be raised of the risks associated with ingesting alcoholic hand sanitizers.
- hand sanitizers