- For the first time, the FDA has issued a countrywide “import alert” on tainted hand sanitizers from Mexico.
- Methanol can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, or even death.
- The FDA started to issue warnings for shoddy hand sanitizers from Mexico in June 2020.
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The Food and Drug Administration has placed alcohol-based hand-sanitizers from Mexico on nationwide “import alert.” This is the first time the FDA has made a countrywide import alert for a drug product.
The decision came after regulators noticed a steady stream of shoddy hand sanitizers from Mexico that claim to have ethanol (ethyl alcohol), but instead have a potentially fatal ingredient: methanol. The FDA has seen a dramatic increase in these mislabeled products from Mexico as the pandemic has unfolded.
With this new warning underway, FDA staff will places hand sanitizers from Mexico under tighter scrutiny, carefully reviewing them to see if they meet the US manufacturing requirements.
Bootleggers started putting methanol in fake hand sanitizer to meet soaring demand
Methanol, or wood alcohol, can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, or even death.
When COVID-19 reached the US, scientists urged Americans to wash their hands if feasible, or use hand sanitizer as a backup, to stem the spread.
Demand for hand sanitizer rocketed, which led to bootlegged versions of the product. It’s unclear why methanol is the preferred ingredient to contaminate hand sanitizers.
“Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible, and the availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated,” Judy McMeekin, FDA associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a statement.
The FDA has been playing whack-a-mole with shoddy hand sanitizers
Starting in June, the FDA warned against nine hand sanitizers that contained dangerous levels of methanol, all of which were produced by the company Eskbiochem SA de CV in Mexico. Shortly after this announcement, the warning list expanded, and the FDA continued to issue warnings about hand-sanitizers that either had methanol or lacked germ-killing ingredients.
In an analysis by the FDA conducted from April through December of 2020, 84% of hand sanitizer samples from Mexico did not meet FDA regulations. More than half of the samples had toxic ingredients, including dangerous levels of methanol.
The FDA also has a list of hand sanitizers people should not use, which can be found here. If you experience any suspicious symptoms from your hand-sanitizer, the FDA says to contact your local poison control center.
Hand sanitizer can pose is risks to children
The FDA said young children who drink methanol-containing hand sanitizers are especially at risk — as are adolescents adults who drink hand-sanitizer as a means to get drunk.
The problem doesn’t stop at dodgy hand sanitizers. Legitimate products are also causing problems among children.
In a new study, researchers set out to measure if there has been an uptick in eye injuries in children, following the increase in use of hand sanitizer.
Using medical records from children referred from the emergency room to the eye doctor, researchers found a seven-fold increase in the number of alcohol-based hand-sanitizer exposures in children. Eight patients had corneal ulcers, and two needed a membrane transplant.
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