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Poison center sees spike in alcohol poisoning related to hand sanitizer

Coronavirus prevention medical surgical masks and hand sanitizer gel for hand hygiene corona virus protection
Posted at 6:10 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 12:20:46-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center has seen a spike in alcohol poisonings and hospitalizations across much of Arizona.

The center services all counties except Maricopa, stating it has never seen so many in one month.

“We see dozens of these per year, but never 22 in a month with hand sanitizers being the source of these hospitalizations," said Dr. Steve Dudley, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

Since June 1, it has received 22 cases related to people drinking hand sanitizer. The center said many don't know the poisonous chemical methanol is inside.

Dudley explained if hand sanitizer isn't mixed just right, it can create the toxic compound.

“With COVID-19 and everyone is rushing to be prepared and stay stocked on hand sanitizer that's a left shortage. So, that's opened the door for either whole making of hand sanitizer or other companies or manufacturers being able to step in and fill that need,” explained Dr. Dudley.

Dudley explained effects of methanol might not be apparent right away, but could be deadly over time.

“Methanol itself is not very toxic, it's what the body breaks methanol down into that causes all the toxicity,” he said.

Signs and symptoms of methanol poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurry or hazy vision that could lead to permanent blindness
  • Seizures

Dudley explained the reason some drink hand sanitizer.

“Unfortunately, you know, it's an alcohol substitute, just like we see people who drink rubbing alcohol and attempts to get drunk. And so again, the problem is you know people who are used to drinking this product. Not that we would ever recommend it but they're used to drinking a certain product and they know what to expect in terms of what it does for them and what side effects that would have, but now you throw in as extremely toxic methanol in there,” said Dr. Dudley.

Dudley added it could be hard to know if methanol is in hand sanitizer by reading the label, but if you think someone has ingested methanol you call the poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.