People drinking or distilling hand sanitizer for the alcohol content isn’t an unusual scenario for poison experts, unfortunately. But a rash of deaths and hospitalizations in Arizona has officials sounding an alarm.
At least four people have died and 26 have been hospitalized since May after drinking hand sanitizer tainted with methanol, The Arizona Republic reports. Most cases involve people in northeast Arizona.
“That triggered an alarm because hand sanitizer is normally primarily ethanol, which is what we generally see in alcohol,” said Dr. Steve Dudley, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, according to the publication.
“And while people definitely can get sick off alcohol, this was not at all the same picture,” Dudley said, The Arizona Republic reported. “When you have hand sanitizer ingestions, normally they don’t need to be hospitalized, they certainly don’t end up in the ICU.”
The FDA has banned several hand sanitizers made in Mexico for containing methanol, which can be deadly, McClatchy News previously reported.
“The problem right now is that it’s a contaminant,” Dudley said, according to KOLD. “So, you can read the label but it’s not going to be there because it’s not supposed to be in there.”
Dudley said some of the cases also could involve improperly distilled homemade hand sanitizers, the station reported.
Methanol can cause “blindness, seizures, organ failure and death,” KOLD reported.
Sometimes called wood alcohol, methanol is not only dangerous when ingested, but can be toxic if absorbed through the skin, according to the FDA.
The poisoning cases in Arizona are believed to mostly involve people with alcoholism drinking or distilling hand sanitizer as a kind of “moonshine,” AZ Family reported.
“So these poor unfortunate people think they’re getting bootleg alcohol, or maybe they’re making bootleg alcohol, and then they succumb to this bad influence of methanol,” said Dr. Frank Lovecchio, a medical toxicologist with Banner Health, according to the station.
In New Mexico, three people died and one went blind from drinking methanol-tainted hand sanitizer, McClatchy News previously reported.
A run on hand sanitizers during the early stages of the global coronavirus pandemic left the products in short supply.