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CDC warns that drinking hand sanitizer can cause methanol poisoning

Hand sanitizers containing methanol have caused several deaths over the past few months

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Photo (c) Ali Siraj - Getty Images
As the FDA continues to add to the list of hand sanitizers that could be fatal to consumers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that people are getting sick and even dying after ingesting hand sanitizer. 

The CDC said Wednesday that four people have died and nearly a dozen others became ill after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Three of the patients suffered vision impairment. 

Additional effects that could arise as a result of drinking hand sanitizer made with either methanol or ethanol include: headache, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and decreased level of consciousness. Health officials warned that methanol poisoning can also result in metabolic acidosis, seizures, blindness, and death. 

“Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizer products containing methanol can cause life-threatening methanol poisoning,” the CDC said in an advisory. “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.” 

Dangers of ingesting hand sanitizer

Between May and June, 15 adults in Arizona and New Mexico were hospitalized for methanol poisoning after consuming alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Poison centers in those states said four of the patients who were hospitalized from the poisoning died and three suffered visual impairment.

"Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested," the CDC said, adding that consumers should “avoid use of specific imported products found to contain methanol, and continue to monitor FDA guidance.” 

The FDA announced last week that it added methanol-based hand sanitizers manufactured in Mexico to an import alert because of their toxicity. The agency has advised consumers to double check its list of banned sanitizers before purchasing products either online or in-store.

In June, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn said consumers must be “vigilant about which hand sanitizers they use.

“For their health and safety we urge consumers to immediately stop using all hand sanitizers on the FDA’s list of dangerous hand sanitizer products,” Hahn said. 

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