CDC: Drinking methanol hand sanitizers poisoned 15, killed 4

Abby Haglage
·4 mins read
A new report details 15 individuals who experienced methanol poisoning after consuming hand-sanitizer, four of whom died. Experts explain why the practice can be deadly. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new report details 15 individuals who experienced methanol poisoning after consuming hand-sanitizer, four of whom died. Experts explain why the practice can be deadly. (Photo: Getty Images)

Two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that some Americans were drinking bleach to stave off the coronavirus (a practice that’s both extremely dangerous and ineffective), a new report has found evidence of an equally dangerous trend: drinking hand-sanitizer.

Published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Wednesday, the paper shares information about 15 individuals who experienced methanol poisoning “associated with swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers” between May 1 and June 30. Four of the individuals — all of whom were located in Arizona or New Mexico — died and three were released with “visual impairment.” At least four of the patients were still in the hospital by early July.

The CDC, which has recommended the use of hand-sanitizer as a substitute (or in addition to hand-washing), retrieved the data in collaboration with both New Mexico and Arizona’s departments of health. The reports came from 62 poison center calls involving hand sanitizer consumption during that time period. According to the patient records, the individuals’ ages ranged in age from 21 to 65, and 86 percent were male. A detailed list of reactions associated with drinking the sanitizer showed varying symptoms, from gastrointestinal distress and vision problems to seizures and loss of consciousness.

In particular, the study urges Americans to specifically avoid methanol-based hand-sanitizers, many of which have been recalled (or are in the process of being recalled). The products, the study reads, can result in both death or “permanent disability” (i.e. blindness). The FDA, which noted in June that the methanol is “not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers,” has a page dedicated to listing hand sanitizers that Americans should not use, including 67 which were methanol-based and mostly stem from Mexico.

It’s important to note that the study says all of the patients had a history of hand-sanitizer consumption, suggesting that some may have been using it as an alcohol substitute. Still, with hand-sanitizer sales skyrocketing and government officials perpetuating the myth that “ingesting disinfectants” may help stave off COVID-19, the CDC is urging all Americans to educate themselves.

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

Whether or not the individuals were consuming it because of the coronavirus, Yahoo Life Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass says that it’s vital to establish what this product should and shouldn’t be used for during this pandemic. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is extraordinarily valuable the surface of your hands between hand-washing. This is really important in the era of COVID-19,” says Kass. “Unfortunately, it has been suggested that ingesting disinfectants may be effective and it is not.”

Kass says that the paper should serve as a warning, both to Americans who may wrongly assume that it is safe to ingest and to public health officials who have helped perpetuate that myth. “This report shows us the dangers of suggesting — even suggesting — ingestion of a disinfectant as it can be life-threatening, as it was in one-third of cases here,” says Kass. “Public health officials and people with platforms must take responsibility for their statements, especially in the light of potentially deadly side effects.”

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For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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