Everyone these days knows that you should wash your hands regularly with hand sanitizers – and you also probably know you shouldn’t drink those same hand sanitizers.

But, in case anyone doesn’t know, this week state health officials put out a public warning about doing so.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) sent notice to media across the state to warn everyone that seven people in New Mexico had ingested methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers – products manufactured in Mexico – which had killed some users and blinded others.

The state’s announcement was part of a larger effort, with word also put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which are both alerting people across the country of the adverse health effects associated with methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers.

The CDC states: “Unlike ethanol (also referred to as ethyl alcohol) or isopropanol, which are active ingredients in most commercially available alcohol-based hand sanitizers or rubs, methanol is a toxic alcohol that can cause blindness and/or death when absorbed through the skin or when swallowed. No alcohol-based hand sanitizers should ever be ingested.”

Currently, the FDA is working with manufacturers and distributors to have a voluntary recall of products that have a significant amount of methanol. The agency has also issued a warning to consumers and health care providers noting that there’s been a sharp increase in products manufactured in Mexico that are labeled to contain ethanol – but that have actually tested positive for methanol.

The CDC issued the following recommendations for the public:

  • Don’t swallow any alcohol-based hand sanitizer or rub since the chemicals in those aren’t intended for human consumption and can be deadly.
  • Check alcohol-based hand sanitizers or rub against the FDA’s testing and manufacturer’s recall list. If your product is on this list, stop using them and dispose of it immediately in appropriate hazardous waste containers.
  • Only use hand sanitizers for their intended purpose – to clean hands.
  • Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of reach of children and supervise their use.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you’ve swallowed any alcohol-based hand sanitizer or are experiencing symptoms from repeated use of these products on your skin.

You can contact a poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice.

Health officials note that symptoms include headache, blurred vision or blindness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and decreased alertness.