Fifteen cases of methanol poisoning caused by swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers were reported in Arizona and New Mexico in May and June, leading to four deaths, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday.
Hand hygiene has been promoted as an important way to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, and the CDC recommends using alcohol-based sanitizer products to clean hands if soap and water are not available.
All alcohol-based hand sanitizers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must contain only ethanol or isopropanol, but some products imported into the country have been found to contain methanol, the CDC said in a report.
The study warned that severe methanol poisoning can result in blindness or death, and asked people to check whether their hand sanitizers contained methanol. Three of the 15 poisoning case patients in the Southwestern states were discharged with visual impairment, the CDC said.
CDC worked with the two states to review poison center call records and found 15 adult patients had taken an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and been admitted to a hospital. All of them had a history of swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizer products.
An earlier CDC survey taken shortly after President Donald Trump publicly asked whether injecting disinfectants could treat Covid-19 found more than a third of Americans misused such products to try to prevent infection.
The researchers said their findings point to the possibility of similar cases in other states and localities, and recommended that safety messaging to avoid ingestion of any alcohol-based hand sanitizer product should continue.