Several cases of people getting sick after swallowing hand sanitizer have been reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recent months.
Some people suffered impaired vision. Others had seizures. Four people died.
A new paper, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, described the cases of 15 adults in Arizona and New Mexico who were hospitalized for methanol poisoning after consuming alcohol-based hand sanitizers in May and June.
While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing ethanol or isopropanol can be used to disinfect hands, the CDC warns against using hand sanitizer containing methanol and swallowing any hand sanitizer. In their new report, CDC researchers emphasize: “alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested.”
A CDC spokesperson told CNN in an email Wednesday that previously, in June, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that methanol was found in some hand sanitizers distributed in the United States – and the new CDC report follows that announcement.
"We wanted to specifically look at adverse events related to methanol because it is known to be toxic and potentially life-threatening when ingested," the spokesperson said.
Some context: In late June, CDC received notification from public health officials and partners in Arizona and New Mexico about methanol poisoning linked with the ingestion of hand sanitizers, according to the new report. Methanol, a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through skin or ingested, can be found in certain hand sanitizers.
CDC researchers and their partners in Arizona and New Mexico reviewed 62 call records to poison centers from May through June to characterize cases that could be methanol poisoning from alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The researchers also obtained medical records for additional details. But the report does not provide information as to why exactly people were ingesting hand sanitizer.
The researchers found that, between May and June, 15 adults met their case definition of hand sanitizer-associated methanol poisoning. All of those adults, ages 21 to 65, were admitted to a hospital after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Six of the adults developed seizures while in the hospital and three were discharged with new visual impairments, the researchers found.
One patient, a 44-year-old man, said that he drank an unknown amount of hand sanitizer in the few days before seeking medical care, according to the CDC paper. The man was hospitalized for six days for acute methanol poisoning, and when he was discharged, he went home with almost complete vision loss.
Overall, four of the adults in the CDC report died.