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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.”