Health warning issued as four die after drinking hand sanitiser in US

7 August 2020, 15:55

Hand sanitiser has surged in popularity during the pandemic
Hand sanitiser has surged in popularity during the pandemic. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

US health officials have issued a formal warning after four deaths linked to drinking hand sanitiser.

A total of 15 people in Arizona and New Mexico were hospitalised after drinking alcohol-based sanitiser between 1 May and 30 June, according to a new report from the US government's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four members of the group, aged 21 to 65, died and three others sustained eye damage. Six also suffered seizures, including three who died.

Some had consumed the gel for its alcohol content, the CDC said.

The report said four of the patients were still in hospital as of 8 July, but there is no update on their condition since or whether they have suffered long-term effects.

The cases prompted the CDC to warn of the dangers of methanol poisoning, given many hand sanitisers contain the harmful chemical. Sales of sanitiser have surged during the pandemic and many businesses have introduced bottles at entrance and exit points.

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Many businesses have installed hand sanitiser to fight coronavirus
Many businesses have installed hand sanitiser to fight coronavirus. Picture: PA

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested,” the CDC said in an advisory.

Health officials warned that drinking hand sanitiser made with either methanol or ethanol could cause a headache, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and decreased level of consciousness.

Methanol poisoning can additionally result in metabolic acidosis, seizures, blindness and death, they said.

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The report said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US regulator, was investigating hand sanitisers containing methanol. By 15 July, it had identified 67 products which are being recalled.

“Severe methanol poisoning resulting in permanent disability or death can occur after swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing methanol," the report warned.

The public was urged to check their hand sanitiser does not contain methanol, using the FDA website, and to dispose of it in hazardous waste containers.

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