CDC warns against drinking hand sanitizer after poisonings, deaths

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning to consumers about the risks of drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizers after four people died and nearly a dozen were hospitalized after ingesting the products.

In May and June, 15 people in Arizona and New Mexico were hospitalized after swallowing hand sanitizer containing methanol, the agency said Wednesday. Of the 15, three people were "discharged with vision loss."

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The cases were reported after the Food and Drug Administration initiated its rolling list of sanitizers that have been recalled due to the presence of methanol, according to the CDC.

The FDA has been rapidly adding to its list since June when the regulator observed an increase in hand sanitizers that purportedly contained ethanol but tested positive for methanol contamination.

The agency has said that methanol — a substance often used to create fuel and antifreeze — can potentially be fatal if ingested and "is not an acceptable ingredient" in any drug on the market.

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In its latest notice, the CDC said: "Persons should never ingest alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid use of specific imported products found to contain methanol, and continue to monitor FDA guidance."

People experiencing methanol and ethanol poisoning may suffer headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and decreased level of consciousness, the CDC said.

Methanol poisoning can lead to severe anion-gap metabolic acidosis, seizures, permanent visual impairment and in some cases blindness, the agency said, adding that if left untreated it can be fatal.

People who have exhibited any symptoms after drinking hand sanitizer must immediately be evaluated, the CDC said.

To further address the issue, the agency says health departments in all states should coordinate with poison centers to identify cases of methanol poisoning.

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