Don’t Drink the Purell

When I first read this headline — “Doctors Warn of Poisoning From Hand Gels” — I assumed the accompanying Reuters article was about the potential danger of becoming too dependent on alcohol-based disinfectants like Purell. (Here’s an article we wrote about hospital-acquired infections and the pressing need for medical personnel to clean their hands; here’s a more recent development.) The idea is that Purell can become ineffective as bacteria evolve and adapt; old-fashioned soap and water, meanwhile, is less fickle.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the Reuters article was in fact about two people who have been sickened by drinking the Purell. One was a prison inmate, the other a hospitalized alcoholic. They were taking big slugs of the stuff because they wanted the alcohol content. But, as the article informs us, the alcohol in Purell is “not the same kind as found in beverages.”

“Evidently,” the article continued, “people misunderstand the labels that show the gels, foams and liquids contain alcohol, the doctors said in separate letters to the New England Journal of Medicine. Cases of people drinking the hand gels because of their alcohol content have not previously been reported in major medical journals.”


Ken Dyck

That's nothing. Have you seen the recent story in New Scientist? Natural oils gave young boys breasts.

Three young boys grew breast tissue after exposure to lotions and shampoos containing lavender or tea tree oil, researchers say.

Nolan Matthias

Just goes to show what people will do when they are desperate. I guess this includes drinking hand sanitizer

prosa

Purell is the new Sterno.

Imsdal

Old news in Sweden. See:
http://www.aftonbladet.se/vss/nyheter/story/0,2789,193654,00.html (in Swedish, from 2002)

14 year old morons drink soap mixed with Fanta to get drunk. To make things even more unappealing, the soap comes from portable cans at festivals, which tend to be the dirtiest things imaginable...

funkyj

Darwin at work

GeologyRocks

I think we should take the warning labels off everthing and let nature do its thing.

Its funny to think about the person responsible for the "dont use the hair dryer in tub" label.

I think it would do the gene pool as a whole a lot of good.

Sister Y

The labels exist to protect manufacturers from liability for "failure to warn," not to actually do anybody any good.

The "clean up the gene pool" argument against warnings (and liability) comes off as rather cruel, especially when applied to two-year-olds ingesting the products, as documented on Snopes last month:

http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/sanitizer.asp

SBGamesCone

Working in IT, and having to touch other the keyboards and mice of other employees, makes a large bottle of Purell a necessary fixture on my desk. Drinking it? I think not.

RyanM

"The “clean up the gene pool” argument against warnings (and liability) comes off as rather cruel, especially when applied to two-year-olds ingesting the products, as documented on Snopes last month:" - how many 2 year olds can read let alone comprehend a warning label?

Dmitry Linkov

In russian villages, where a lot of alcoholics can be met, people drink whatever they can just to get drunk.

joeD

thanks media, for turning teenagers on to the idea of drinking purell. mine would have probably never thought of it on their own.

dreamspinnerCheryl

Anyone know whether the stories of hand sanitizers combusting when sparked by static are true? The hospital I work for circulated a memo to that effect. Great-we already have to worry about contracting MRSA, HIV, HepB, and various other nasties at work-now we need to worry about hand fires??

Should'a gone into teaching....

D. Cheryl, R.N.

synapticmisfires

I sure hope that joeD is kidding. Any teen who hears stories about people getting violently ill trying to drink purell and then decides to do it himself is probably too dumb to open the bottle. Thing is, purrel probably isn't that cheap anyway. I'll stick with turpentine, thanks!

jreddish

The Reuters article is actually mistaken. The active ingredient in Purell (according to Purell.com and the bottle I have) is 63% ethyl alcohol, not the poisonous isopropyl alcohol. The New England Journal of Medicine article about the Maryland inmate who became intoxicated by Purell describes it as ethyl alcohol intoxication. Ethyl alcohol, aka ethanol or EtOH, is drinking alcohol.

Other inactive ingredients of Purell are: Water, Glycerin, Isopropyl Myristate, Propylene Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aminomethyl Propanol, Carbomer, Fragrance (parfum). I don't know that any of these are toxic, or present in sufficient quantities to manifest toxicity in humans. In fact, Poison Control-type webpages indicate alcohol poisoning is the concern when children ingest Purell, not some other toxic ingredient.

In "dry" states, or places where alcohol sales are time-restricted, or places that are dry on Sunday, or for people who can't legally purchase alcohol due to age or other restrictions, a safe, available and effective alternative to beer, wine, and liquor poses a major threat to public safety. At least mouthwash has sufficient levels of menthol to induce vomiting when consumed in larger doses. It appears Purell may very well be cheap close-to-grain alcohol susceptible to abuse.

Read more...

jreddish

Follow-up: 8oz (a half-pint) of Purell is $3.79 according to CVS.com. At 125-proof, that's the equivalent of 12.5oz of 80-proof vodka. Name brands of 80-proof vodka retail online for $3-$5 per approximate half-pint (200ml).

Don't think this is too expensive to be abused.

Me!

Okay... I remember in elementary school my classmate licked the purell. He had to go home sick...

Jack Hawkins

@12: dreamspinnerCheryl
snopes.com covers this rumour - it's false. The photos that accompany the warning about Purell's flammability are in fact taken from a safety booklet discussing electrical safety, and illustrate burns from an electrical arc.

It's hard to get Purell to burn, and when it does it burns fairly cool and it's easy to extinguish. The rumour usually describes the person working in a windy environment and struggling to light a cigarette - if it was that windy then the alcohol vapour would be quickly dispersed and the concentration on the skin would be very low.

Ken Dyck

That's nothing. Have you seen the recent story in New Scientist? Natural oils gave young boys breasts.

Three young boys grew breast tissue after exposure to lotions and shampoos containing lavender or tea tree oil, researchers say.

Nolan Matthias

Just goes to show what people will do when they are desperate. I guess this includes drinking hand sanitizer

prosa

Purell is the new Sterno.