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Hand Sanitizer May Have Caused Girl to Catch Fire in Oregon Hospital

Update Date: Feb 19, 2013 03:16 PM EST
hand sanitizer
Researchers found that 20 percent of all U.S. health facilities don’t make alcohol-based hand sanitizer available at every point of care. Researchers at Columbia University School of Nursing and the World Health Organization said that this is very important because these hospitals are missing an important opportunity to prevent infections. (Photo : Flickr/Manchester Library)

Officials are investigating a mysterious incident that broke out in an Oregon hospital after a 11-year-old cancer survivor who caught on fire. Currently, investigators are saying that the cause may be linked to hand sanitizer and static electricity.

Ireland Lane was diagnosed with a rare form of a childhood kidney cancer while visiting relatives in Tennessee in 2007. After five years, dozens of surgeries, three rounds of chemotherapy, one round of radiation therapy and one round of stem cell treatment, Ireland has reportedly beat the cancer twice.

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In fact, Ireland was in the hospital for an unrelated head injury. She had hit her head in school and lost consciousness. Her father, a Navy veteran, says that Ireland has trouble remembering the moments leading up to the fire, which he said to the Oregonian was likely for the best. Her father Stephen Lane says he was sleeping in her hospital room on the day that she was due to be discharged. She had used hand sanitizer to clean a wooden table over her bed, where she had painted a wooden box as a gift to her nurses. Later, she was playing with her blankets, making static electricity. That was likely when the fire broke out on Ireland's shirt. Ireland suffered from third-degree burns from her belly button to her chin. She was also burned on her arms, the bottom of her earlobes and some of her hair. Her father was able to smother the flames with his body in the hospital wing's hallway.

Though investigators have not yet been able to unearth an official cause, they said that an alcohol-based dispenser makes the only sense. Indeed, the hospital uses a sanitizer that contains 61 percent alcohol. Though rare, it would be possible for the static electricity to combine with the vapors of the sanitizer in order to make a fire. If Ireland had rubbed her hands on her shirt, that would put her at risk. In fact, the problem is not unheard of; one nurse's hand caught on fire when the antiseptic sparked with electricity in 2002; in 1998, a patient suffered from injuries during an operating room fire fueled by antiseptic.

"I've been in medicine going back 30 years now and never heard anything like this. And hopefully I never will again," Dr. Stacy Nicholson, from the Doernbecher Children's Hospital, said to KATU.com.

Ireland's second skin graft surgery will take place today, on her birthday.

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