Hand sanitizer is everywhere and is useful for cleaning the hands during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s not safe to swallow, the CDC cautions. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested,” the CDC said.
A CDC team described the cases of 15 adults in Arizona and New Mexico hospitalized for methanol poisoning after consuming alcohol-based hand sanitizers between May and June.
The CDC is not sure why people might drink hand sanitizer. Children might do it by mistake, and some people may think it’s a good substitute for alcoholic drinks. It is not.
The US Food and Drug Administration has been repeatedly warning about methanol in some hand sanitizers distributed in the United States. Unlike ethanol — the alcohol usually used to make hand sanitizer — methanol is toxic and can even poison people through their skin. The FDA has warned against more than 100 hand sanitizer products.
The new CDC report follows that announcement, a CDC spokesperson told CNN in an email on Wednesday.
“We wanted to specifically look at adverse events related to methanol because it is known to be toxic and potentially life-threatening when ingested,” the spokesperson said.
Six seizures, four deaths
In late June, CDC received notification from public health officials and partners in Arizona and New Mexico about methanol poisoning linked with the ingestion of hand sanitizers.
CDC researchers and their partners in Arizona and New Mexico reviewed 62 call records to poison centers from May through June to characterize cases that could be methanol poisoning from alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The researchers also obtained medical records for additional details. But the report does not provide information as to why people were ingesting hand sanitizer.
The researchers found 15 ages 21 to 65 were admitted to a hospital after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Six developed seizures while in the hospital and three were discharged with new visual impairments, the researchers found.
One patient, a 44-year-old man, said that he drank hand sanitizer in the few days before seeking medical care, according to the CDC paper. The man was hospitalized for six days for acute methanol poisoning and when he was discharged, he went home with almost complete vision loss.
Four of the adults in the CDC report died.
“This investigation highlights the serious adverse health events, including death, that can occur after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizer products containing methanol,” the researchers wrote in the new CDC report.
“Safety messaging to avoid ingestion of any alcohol-based hand sanitizer product should continue,” they wrote. “Young children might unintentionally swallow these products, whereas adolescents or adults with history of alcohol use disorder might intentionally swallow these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute.”
‘We remain extremely concerned’
This isn’t the first time that public health agencies have reminded people not to ingest certain disinfectants or use such products improperly.