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Wisconsin health officials warn of contaminated hand sanitizer that can be fatal

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Wisconsin health officials are warning residents to be careful with hand sanitizers that may contain dangerous, if not deadly, chemicals.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services declared in a release Tuesday that when countries around the world increase the production of sanitizers in the midst of the pandemic, the risk of unsafe chemicals and alcohols creeps into sanitizers.

For example, the health departments have registered a large increase in hand sanitizers labeled to contain ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) ̵

1; but actually contain methanol impurities.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested, according to DHS, and can be life-threatening.

Interim State Health Officer Stephanie Smiley said in an issue that “hand sanitizers are good to use when soap and water are not available, but often, thorough hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19.”

“If you must use hand sanitizers, be sure to avoid all products on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list of hand sanitizers that have been recalled (link is external),” according to Smiley. You can see that list here.

According to the Wisconsin Poison Center:

  • Use only according to the instructions on the hands. Accidental ingestion of even a relatively small amount of methanol by children can pose a serious risk of poisoning. Symptoms of methanol poisoning include nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.
  • There is concern about poisoning related to the most common ingredient in hand sanitizer, ethyl alcohol. These products usually contain over 60% ethyl alcohol, a stronger concentration than most hard liquids. A child who ingests more than one lick or a taste of this product may be at risk of alcohol poisoning. Ingestion of as little as an ounce or two can be fatal in a young child.
  • If you or a child accidentally swallows hand sanitizer, call the Wisconsin Poison Center immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop. Call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222 at any time of the day or night.

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