Coronavirus: CDC warns against drinking hand sanitiser amid reports of US deaths

Hand sanitiser is used by students at a school in Monterey Park, California.
Hand sanitiser is used by students at a school in Monterey Park, California.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A rash of poisonings and four deaths in May and June were tied to drinking hand sanitiser that contained methanol in Arizona and New Mexico, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The incidents happened after President Donald Trump mused on ingesting disinfectants to treat the novel coronavirus.

The agency detailed 15 cases of methanol poisoning in its weekly report, including four patients who remain hospitalised and three who were released with permanent visual impairment.

Just four of the 15 fully recovered, the agency said on Wednesday (Aug 5).

"This investigation highlights the serious adverse health events, including death, that can occur after ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitiser products containing methanol," the CDC wrote.

"All alcohol-based hand sanitisers should only be used to disinfect hands and should never be swallowed."

The cases came after Trump asked during an April 24 briefing at the White House whether disinfectants could be used internally to help combat the novel coronavirus.

His query followed a presentation that showed sunlight, humidity and disinfectants can kill coronavirus on surfaces, in some cases within seconds.

The possibility immediately alarmed doctors, who insisted that the chemicals would do more harm than good inside the body.

The CDC's report focused on products that contain methanol, which is not considered an acceptable ingredient in hand sanitiser because of its risks.

Poisoning can occur with other types of alcohol used in hand sanitisers, and all cases start similarly - with headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, loss of coordination and consciousness.

Methanol poisoning, however, can progress to a build up of acid known as acidosis, seizures and permanent blindness. It's fatal if left untreated.

The US Food and Drug Administration has identified 67 alcohol-based hand sanitisers that contain methanol and are now being recalled.

Both agencies advise consumers to check products to ensure they don't include methanol.