"Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested," said the CDC, noting that three patients were left with damaged vision

By Benjamin VanHoose
August 06, 2020 10:38 AM
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A total of 15 adults were hospitalized and four died after drinking toxic hand sanitizer in a two-month period in two states, according to a new report.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report about cases of methanol poisoning identified in Arizona and New Mexico between May 1 and June 30, 2020. The cases were associated with swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Four people died from the consumption of the products made for external use on the hands, and three were discharged with lasting visual impairment, the CDC said.

"Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested. In patients with compatible signs and symptoms or after having swallowed hand sanitizer, prompt evaluation for methanol poisoning is required," said the health officials. "Health departments in all states should coordinate with poison centers to identify cases of methanol poisoning."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently flagged a number of hand sanitizer options that contain methanol, which can cause headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, kidney failure, coma and death. A list of more than 75 brands known to contain methanol.

"Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should only contain ethanol or isopropanol, but some products imported into the United States have been found to contain methanol," the CDC explained.

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According to the CDC, methanol can be absorbed in the body via inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or eye contact. The FDA urges consumers that have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol to seek treatment immediately.

They also recommend consumers immediately stop using the toxic products and dispose of them in the appropriate hazardous waste containers. Consumers should not flush or pour the products down the drain.

In June, health officials in New Mexico announced that three people in the state had died after drinking hand sanitizer containing methanol. Three others who drank the toxic substance were in critical condition and another was permanently blinded, the Department of Health said at the time.

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The cases were related to alcoholism, as hand sanitizer typically has a high alcohol content. Brandon Warrick, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico who is certified in emergency medicine, medical toxicology, and addiction, told The New York Times that it was the largest number of methanol poisoning cases he has seen.

During the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, health experts, including the CDC, have recommended washing hands with soap and water as the best way to avoid infection. If soap and water are unavailable, the CDC recommended using a hand sanitizer that’s made from at least 60 percent alcohol.

If done correctly, experts estimate that sanitizing your hands can reduce the rate of infection by respiratory illness infection by 16 to 21 percent.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.