A man who drank six bottles of hand sanitiser while being treated in hospital for alcoholism has sparked calls for the antibacterial gels to be better secured.
Doctors at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne were stunned when they discovered the man had downed six bottles of hand sanitiser, giving him a blood alcohol reading of 0.271 per cent - the equivalent of drinking about 20 stubbies of beer.
The 45-year-old had been undergoing treatment for alcohol-related gastritis when he drank the 375ml bottles of sanitiser, which have an ethanol content of 66 per cent and are routinely used by medical staff to prevent infections spreading between patients.
Dr Michael Oldmeadow, a consultant physician at the hospital, said the man had been lucky to survive.
He said although the incident was not the first of its kind, it was the most serious case he had seen and highlighted the need for hand sanitiser bottles in hospitals to be bolted to ward walls so they could only be refilled but never removed.
"We have these bottles all over the wards and they are used constantly," Dr Oldmeadow told AAP.
"We need to have it because infection control in hospitals is critical and you can't have doctors and staff walking in and out of patients' rooms without protecting against the transfer of bugs.
"What we want to achieve is to bolt a container to the wall so it can only be refilled but can't be removed from the wall."
Hand sanitiser bottles are commonly held in wire baskets attached to hospital walls and can easily be removed.
In a letter published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Oldmeadow and three of his colleagues said at least one hospital in the US had introduced non-removable dispensers in all its wards.
"Experience at our institution over the past six months suggests that consumption of alcohol-based hand sanitisers by inpatients may be an increasing problem in Australian settings - we are aware of a further three patients who have consumed these products while at our institution," they wrote.
In the case of The Alfred patient, nurses discovered the near-empty sanitiser bottles while cleaning his bed.
He had been admitted to hospital three days earlier and suddenly became drowsy for no apparent reason.
The man admitted to drinking the sanitiser and agreed to undergo a breath test.
"It's obviously an uncomfortable time for a withdrawing alcoholic but he managed to find a way around it," Dr Oldmeadow said.
"But it surprised us that he drank this stuff. It's horrendous. You'd think it would taste pretty bad."