Technology & Science

Hand sanitizer has poisoning potential, doctors warn

A prison inmate and a man with alcoholism in the U.S. became intoxicated by drinking hand sanitizer, doctors report.

A prison inmate and a man with alcoholism in the U.S. became intoxicated by drinking hand sanitizer, doctors report.

The gels contain alcohol but not the type found in drinks.

In Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, the doctors reporting the cases called for the makers of hand gels to change the labels, because people may misinterpret the alcohol content.

"The Maryland Poison Center was called about a 49-year-old, usually calm prison inmate who was described as being 'red-eyed,' 'loony,' 'combative,' and 'intoxicated, lecturing everyone about life,' " Dr. Suzanne Doyon of the Maryland Poison Center and Dr. Christopher Welsh of the University of Maryland School of Medicine wrote in one letter to the journal.

"Other inmates and staff reported seeing this prisoner drinking from a gallon container of Purell hand sanitizer over the course of the evening."

The inmate's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

In a second letter, doctors said they treated a 43-year-old man with alcoholism who had mysterious chest pains.

"Before those results were obtained, the patient was seen in the bathroom drinking the alcohol-based hand wash from its dispenser," Dr. Ashkan Emadi and Dr. LeAnn Coberly of the University of Cincinnati wrote.

"When asked why he ingested the hand cleaner, he pointed to the label, which read, 'Active ingredient 63 percent v/v isopropyl alcohol,' which he said is higher in alcoholthanvodka."

Ingesting about 200 millilitres of isopropanol can be deadly because it depresses the central nervous system and the heart, Emadi and Coberly wrote in a second letter.

"Physicians should be aware of the potential for isopropanol intoxication, especially among alcoholics, in the hospital setting. Perhaps changing the description on the container from isopropyl alcohol to isopropanol or propane-2-ol would decrease the attraction of these hand sanitizers for potentially dangerous abuse," they concluded.

Johnson and Johnson, makers of Purell hand sanitizer, said the product is safe and effective when used properly.

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