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A bottle of Purell hand sanitizer and a box of disposable masks
A bottle of Purell hand sanitizer and a box of disposable masks Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Several cases of people getting sick after swallowing hand sanitizer have been reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recent months.

About Coronavirus
Coronaviruses are a group of related RNA viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, these viruses cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal. Mild illnesses include some cases of the common cold (which is also caused by other viruses, predominantly rhinoviruses), while more lethal varieties can cause SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. Symptoms in other species vary: in chickens, they cause an upper respiratory tract disease, while in cows and pigs they cause diarrhea. There are as yet no vaccines or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat human coronavirus infections.
Coronaviruses constitute the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae, in the family Coronaviridae, order Nidovirales, and realm Riboviria. They are enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome and a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry. The genome size of coronaviruses ranges from approximately 26 to 32 kilobases, one of the largest among RNA viruses. They have characteristic club-shaped spikes that project from their surface, which in electron micrographs create an image reminiscent of the solar corona, from which their name derives.

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Some people suffered impaired vision. Others had seizures. Four people died. 

A new paper, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, described the cases of 15 adults in Arizona and New Mexico who were hospitalized for methanol poisoning after consuming alcohol-based hand sanitizers in May and June.

Coronavirus update: Latest news from around the world

While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing ethanol or isopropanol can be used to disinfect hands, the CDC warns against using hand sanitizer containing methanol and swallowing any hand sanitizer. In their new report, CDC researchers emphasize: “alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested.”

A CDC spokesperson told CNN in an email Wednesday that previously, in June, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that methanol was found in some hand sanitizers distributed in the United States – and the new CDC report follows that announcement.

“We wanted to specifically look at adverse events related to methanol because it is known to be toxic and potentially life-threatening when ingested,” the spokesperson said.

Some context: In late June, CDC received notification from public health officials and partners in Arizona and New Mexico about methanol poisoning linked with the ingestion of hand sanitizers, according to the new report. Methanol, a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through skin or ingested, can be found in certain hand sanitizers.

CDC researchers and their partners in Arizona and New Mexico reviewed 62 call records to poison centers from May through June to characterize cases that could be methanol poisoning from alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The researchers also obtained medical records for additional details. But the report does not provide information as to why exactly people were ingesting hand sanitizer.

The researchers found that, between May and June, 15 adults met their case definition of hand sanitizer-associated methanol poisoning. All of those adults, ages 21 to 65, were admitted to a hospital after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Six of the adults developed seizures while in the hospital and three were discharged with new visual impairments, the researchers found.

One patient, a 44-year-old man, said that he drank an unknown amount of hand sanitizer in the few days before seeking medical care, according to the CDC paper. The man was hospitalized for six days for acute methanol poisoning, and when he was discharged, he went home with almost complete vision loss.

Overall, four of the adults in the CDC report died.

 

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