CDC warns against ingesting hand sanitizer after reports of poisonings, deaths

CDC warns against ingesting hand sanitizer after reports of poisonings, deaths
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday issued a health warning against the ingestion of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products following reports of poisonings in the U.S.

The agency said that poison centers in Arizona and New Mexico reported 15 cases of methanol poisoning associated with the swallowing of hand sanitizer in May and June. Four of the patients who were hospitalized from the poisoning died, and three were discharged with visual impairment.

Alcohol-based sanitizer typically contains ethanol or isopropanol, and its use for disinfecting hands is cited by the CDC as a "core component" of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the over-the-counter distribution of sanitizer, has said that methanol is not an acceptable ingredient. 

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The CDC said that it received case reports about the poisonings after the FDA in mid-June issued a consumer alert about some hand sanitizer products containing methanol.

The CDC noted that after receiving these reports, officials conducted a review and found that 15 U.S. adults were hospitalized after drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizer with methanol. The average age of the patients was 43, and 13 were men. 

"Persons should never ingest alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid use of specific imported products found to contain methanol, and continue to monitor FDA guidance," the CDC said. 

In its warning, the CDC highlighted the case of a 44-year-old man who reported drinking an unknown quantity of hand sanitizer before seeking care. Blood tests confirmed the presence of methanol. The patient was treated for six days for "acute methanol poisoning" and discharged with his vision almost completely gone, the CDC said. 

Health agencies have repeatedly issued warnings about hand sanitizer products throughout the health crisis. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn issued an advisory in late April urging hand sanitizer manufacturers to ensure consumers weren't abusing the product after local and state health departments reported an abrupt surge in calls about possible poisonings. 

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The advisory came just days after President Trump during a press briefing floated the possibility of using ultraviolet light or injecting disinfectants to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Trump received widespread criticism for the remarks, which he later claimed were meant to be sarcastic.

Calls to poison control centers about exposure to cleaners or disinfectants jumped by 20 percent during the first three months of 2020 compared with the previous year, according to a report released by the CDC in March. The agency said signs pointed to the uptick in calls being linked to the coronavirus.