Parents and doctors are warning others about a new twist on an insidious old social media challenge that is sending more kids to the hospital with severe burn injuries.
Social media challenges often dare kids to pull off harmful stunts and record the results. The fire challenge, for instance, has been around for years. It challenges kids to take a flammable substance and set it on fire. Some versions of this challenge have kids apply common household substances such as isopropyl alcohol or acetone to their clothes or skin, light it with a flame, and post the results to Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media platforms.
As if that weren’t bad enough, a new version of the fire challenge dares kids to use hand sanitizer as the flammable agent, due to the abundance of the substance in homes as people try to ward off the coronavirus.
One South Carolina mother told The Chronicle of Charleston that this sinister challenge sent her 9-year-old daughter to the MUSC Health South Carolina Burn Center with severe burn injuries.
“Honestly, I want y’all to put this out. She got burned because of a social media challenge. Parents really need to pay attention to what their kids are watching,” Maria Washington of Salters, South Carolina, told The Observer. “You need to follow up and pay attention, because that’s what happened to her. They were following a challenge. They put hand sanitizer on her clothing and lit it on fire.”
Ms. Washington’s daughter was under sedation in the burn care center for three days as doctors worked to clean and dress her wounds, a process that the mother described as “intensely painful.” Pain management and staving off infection are a couple of the biggest challenges patients with severe burn injuries face.
“We’ve seen multiple iterations of poor decision making related to self-inflicted burn injury that’s been hyped on social media over the past 10 years,” Dr. Steven Kahn, head of the MUSC Health South Carolina Burn Center and an associate professor in the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Medicine, told The Observer.
“I’ve seen multiple rounds of this all around the country in different burn centers I’ve worked in. It started with things like the salt and ice challenge — they put salt and ice on their arm and hold it as long as they can, 10 to 15 minutes, and get third-degree frostbite,” Dr. Kahn added. He said that he’s seen at least 15 patients with burn injuries they sustained by setting themselves on fire with isopropyl alcohol in the fire challenge.
But whereas alcohol burns off quickly and can be extinguished more readily, hand sanitizer sticks to the skin like napalm, causing more serious and potentially life-threatening burns. This is the new wave of fire challenge-related burn injuries doctors are seeing a lot of these days.
Dr. Kahn told The Observer that social media challenges often “result in the need for surgery, terrible scars, permanent deformities and life-threatening injuries. They are unsafe and should never be attempted under any circumstances,” he warned.