State health officials warn against overreliance on hand sanitizer.

The Department of Health Services stressed that using hand sanitizers as a substitute for hand washing can have deadly side effects. Photo: vdhkk, licensed under creative commons.

Author: Sam Buisman

State health officials warn that an overreliance on certain hand sanitizers to protect against COVID-19 could be poisonous. 

In a Tuesday press release, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services revealed that calls to poison control centers regarding methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As skin-absorption or ingestion of methanol can cause blindness or death, the DHS stressed that the best way to clean one’s hands is with good old fashioned soap and water. 

Interim State Health Officer Stephanie Smiley described hand sanitizer as a great alternative but a poor substitute to regular hand washing.

“Hand sanitizer is great to use when soap and water aren’t available,” said Smiley, “but frequent, thorough handwashing is the best way to prevent spreading viruses like COVID-19.” 

According to Medical Director of the Wisconsin Poison Center Doctor David Gummin, methanol poisoning poses a serious threat to children, for whom the accidental ingestion of even small amounts could cause permanent blindness, nervous system damage or death. 

Even in non-methanol hand sanitizers, the potent concentration of ethyl alcohol in most sanitizers also poses a real risk to children of alcohol poisoning. 

However, this press release should not be misconstrued as a reason to not clean one’s hands during a global pandemic. The DHS, CDC and other public health experts still implore the public to wash their hands often to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.