Should We Worry about the Use of Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers by Pregnant Health Care Workers?

Virginia Evans and Peter Orris from the University of Illinois wrote a Letter to the Editor on this topic in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine earlier this year ( Vol 54(1):3, Jan 2012).

Health care workers use alcohol-based hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals and other health care settings. Could there be dangers from inhaling or absorbing these sanitizers through the skin?

Evans and Orris look at the handful of studies on this topic.  While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports averages of five to 30 hand rubs/health care worker/shift, they used an estimate from a health
care worker in the neonatal intensive care unit who might use hand sanitizer as many as 100 times over an 8-hour shift. After using mathematical modelling from previous studies, they conclude that the “data are reassuring” and:

“…exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitizers would, at most, lead to very low blood alcohol levels… if an additional risk reduction is desired by pregnant health care workers, work practices should be modified to allow the use of soap and water as a substitute for the alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”