Antiseptic Health Wipes – Proof Positive?

December 6, 2007

You know that theory that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? It certainly seems to apply to any new product development as the report in the British Medical Journal of 1 December seems to prove. Because there is such a prevalence now of bugs and viruses, the incidence of using antiseptic hand cleansing products has become much more widespread in public buildings and in our homes. However these various products from hand wipes to hand washing solutions usually contain alcohol in one form or another and there is now concern that they could be a problem to alcoholics.

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust did a study after investigating a case report on a patient known to have a history of alcohol dependence who displayed withdrawal symptoms even though he had not consumed alcohol for 24 hours. The patient arrived at the hospital and during admission was found collapsed, having vomited in the bathroom. He was holding an empty 500 ml bottle of alcohol hand rub with another such bottle next to him. His blood ethanol concentration at the time of collapse was nine times over the legal British driving limit and a potentially fatal concentration

The Trust then looked at hospital admissions related to children and adults exposed to alcohol hand wipes and it was found that during the 18 month period after alcohol hand wipes and hand rubs became widespread in use that 66% of the admissions were thought to result from intentional abuse. These cases all occurred within hospitals or nursing homes where their use ought to be strictly monitored, though it appears that in a normal adult as little as 360 ml of an alcohol hand rub containing 80% ethanol might potentially lead to life-threatening complications.

Any ill effects generally occur within one to two hours after ingestion and usually have symptoms of gastric pain and vomiting. More serious effects involve central nervous system depression, leading to aspiration and respiratory arrest. According to the toxicologists who wrote the report, the more serious effects are seen in those who ingest more than 500 ml of hand rub, and this is most likely to occur in confused patients and alcohol abusers seeking the desired effect.


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