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FDA warning: Beware methanol-based hand sanitizers

Submitted by Shawnna Rhine, Southern Seven Health Dept.
updated: 7/7/2020 10:54 AM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are warning consumers and health care providers that there has been a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but that have tested positive for methanol contamination.

The FDA advised consumers not to use any hand sanitizer manufactured by "Eskbiochem SA de CV" in Mexico, due to the potential presence of methanol, a "toxic alcohol," as an active ingredient, which can cause severe illness and/or death when absorbed through the skin or when swallowed.

Since then, FDA has identified additional alcohol based hand sanitizers or rub products that contain methanol and is working with manufacturers and distributors on a voluntary recall of these products.

Methanol, or wood alcohol, is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects. FDA's investigation of methanol in certain hand sanitizers is ongoing. The agency will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning. Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.

Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk.

Southern Seven Health Department reminds consumers that hand hygiene is an important part of the response to the emergence of COVID-19. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one's nose.

If soap and water are not readily available, Southern Seven continues to follow the CDC recommendations to consumers to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol (also referred to as ethyl alcohol) on hands that are not visible dirty. Avoid those containing methanol as prolonged use or ingestion may result in methanol poisoning.