August 7, 2020 16h58
Reminders of disinfectants for the hands: what you need to know
The Canadian Press
Hand sanitizers have been particularly under the microscope in recent times. Over 50 brands have now been subject to recalls from Health Canada, which has led some to question the safety of the products they use on a daily basis.
Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who specializes in hand hygiene, says that hand sanitizers are always safe and effective, when they are manufactured and used properly.
Although the ethanol of high quality is the ingredient that makes hand sanitizers to be effective, there are two impurities that the experts consider as substitutions dangerous: the methanol and ethyl acetate.
The distinction molecular between methanol and ethanol is rather small, ” says Mr. Furness, it is so easy to spoil everything during the production process if the manufacturer does not know what he is doing.
“The methanol and ethanol will look like and behave exactly the same way, he said. The difference is that one is quite dangerous.”
Health Canada has compiled a growing list of disinfectants for the hands that have been recalled recently. The most recent version, published Wednesday, included 51 different brands containing certain types of alcohol “which are not acceptable in the manufacture of disinfectants for the hands”.
Most of the products covered by this series of reminders contain ethyl acetate, which can be used in the manufacture of products such as glue or solvents for nail varnish.
Others contain methanol, which product of the fuel or antifreeze.
Kelly Grindrod, who is an associate professor in the School of pharmacy, University of Waterloo, says that the ethyl acetate and methanol can both cause skin irritation, but the methanol can also lead to irritation of eyes and upper respiratory tract where it evaporates and is inhaled after being applied on the skin.
“You inhale it and it can cause irritation, headaches may also occur, said Mrs Grindrod. Then it is a problem.”
There are also fears that the product to be absorbed through the skin, although the professor Grindrod has said that the amount would be minimal and that the long-term toxicity is “more a questioning of a known risk”.
These concerns become more important to the health workers who use products that “well over 100 times per day”, rather than for an average person working at home and disinfecting the hands one or two times doing his shopping, said Mrs Grindrod.
The dangers of hand sanitizer containing methanol or ethyl acetate can be harmful if they are ingested, and the Centers for disease control and disease prevention have released a report this week warning of the serious side effects, including death, that are associated with the ingestion of methanol.
The organization said that 15 cases of poisoning with methanol associated with the ingestion of hand sanitizers alcohol-based have been reported in Arizona and New Mexico between may 1 and June 30. Four patients are dead.
Ethyl acetate is also toxic when it is ingested, noted Ms. Grindrod.
Mr Furness argued that it is dangerous that disinfectants based on alcohol, even those based ethanol, are accessible to unsupervised children or other vulnerable persons such as prisoners and patients of psychiatric facilities.
Although there are alternatives to hand sanitizer without alcohol, these can have additional risks.
“They are not dangerous, but they are inefficient, said Mr. Furness. And this is another type of risk, thinking that your hands are disinfected so that they are not.”
As Mr. Furness Mrs Grindrod suggest to ensure that the sanitizer contains at least 60 % ethanol and keeping away from solutions craft that can be diluted involuntarily, and are therefore less effective.
“They may have started with a 60 % ethanol, but as soon as they add all the other stuff, they may end up with 30 % and they have no idea,” said Mrs Grindrod.
Mr Furness added that it was difficult to find the right balance with solutions that are home-made and that if the alcohol they contain evaporates too quickly, it will not have the time to kill the germs.