Four out of 15 adults admitted to hospital in the United States in recent months for ingesting an alcohol-based hand sanitiser died and three were left visually impaired, according to a new report from the nation's health protection agency.

The paper, published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week, focused on cases of serious adverse health events or death "associated with swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitisers" containing methanol in two southwestern states between May and June.

"Alcohol-based hand sanitiser products should never be ingested," the CDC states.

It noted hand hygiene is an "integral component" of the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to social distancing and the consistent use of face masks.


The report says alcohol-based hand sanitisers should only contain ethanol or isopropanol.

Those containing methanol – some of which are imported into the US – can cause "life-threatening methanol poisoning" resulting in permanent disability or death.

"Young children might unintentionally swallow these products, whereas adolescents or adults with history of alcohol use disorder might intentionally swallow these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute," the CDC states.


The agency tabled the characteristics of the 15 patients admitted to health-care facilities with methanol poisoning associated with alcohol-based hand sanitiser products from May 1 to June 30 in Arizona and New Mexico.

Two woman and 13 men were in the group, aged between 21 and 65.

Six patients developed seizures during their time in hospital.

"All patients had a history of swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitiser products," according to the report.

"Four patients died and three were discharged with vision impairment."


The visual impairments were considered "new".

The four who died were a 35-year-old man unresponsive and having seizures, a 38-year-old woman whose initial signs and symptoms were not reported, a 39-year-old man unconscious and having seizures and a 65-year-old man who was unresponsive, experiencing seizures and had cardiac arrest.

As of July 8, four of the remaining 11 cases were still in hospital.


One of the survivors was a 44-year-old man who was initially assessed for "recent onset of visual impairment".

"The patient reported drinking an unknown quantity of alcohol-based hand sanitiser during the few days before seeking medical care," the report states.

The man's treatment was complicated with seizures but he was treated with medication for methanol poisoning and underwent haemodialysis – having his blood "cleaned" by a dialysis machine.


He recovered after six days in hospital for acute methanol poisoning but "was discharged with near-total vision loss".

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC issued warnings and import alerts in recent weeks about lines of hand sanitiser that may be toxic.

The CDC encouraged Americans to check their products against the FDA website advising which hand sanitisers consumers should not use.

"If the product is on this list, its use should be discontinued immediately, and the product should be disposed of in hazardous waste containers; these products should not be flushed down a toilet or poured down a drain," the agency states.

As of July 15, the FDA had tested and identified 67 alcohol-based hand sanitiser products containing methanol and they were being recalled by the manufacturer or distributor in the US.