55th Force Squadron members places warning sign asking patrons to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering a cafeteria.. (U.S. Air Force photo by Charles J. Haymond)

Road Town, Virgin Islands–September 8th, 2020

The BVI Ministry of Health and Social Development issued a press release today advising residents to to be vigilant against counterfeit hand sanitizers that are being sold ‘on the market’.

The ministry is alerting the public to the counterfeit hand sanitizers that look just like genuine products but contain the active ingredients in a toxic gel made with methanol or methyl alcohol and 1-propanol or propyl alcohol that may result in death.

Methanol, methyl alcohol or wood alcohol is used to make rocket fuel and antifreeze, but is toxic to humans and animals.

The use of methanol can cause methanol poisoning and should never be rubbed on the skin or swallowed, says the ministry press release.

Using hand sanitizers that contain methanol can cause serious health problems such as loss of coordination, vomiting, abdominal pain, or blurred vision that may start as early as 12 hours after exposure. Usage can also cause long term affects such as blindness, kidney failure and death.

1-Propanol or 1-propyl alcohol is used to make industrial solvents (a type of cleaner) and can be toxic if swallowed. Using hand sanitizers made with 1-propanol can cause skin or eye irritation, decreased breathing and heart rate, and may lead to death.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has reported four deaths because of methanol poisoning.

The ministry also advises individuals not to taste their hands or drink any hand sanitizer in place of alcoholic drink as this is also dangerous and has resulted in the death of an individual due to alcohol poisoning.

The press release does not make it clear if the individual who died from drinking hand sanitizer was in the BVI or elsewhere.

Hand sanitizers, the ministry says, are a particular danger to young children who should be supervised so that they do not overuse the liquid and lick their hands with the sanitizers on them.

Additionally, hand sanitizers should not be used on pets’ paws or skin, as this can cause alcohol poisoning, serious health problems, and death in animals. Animal owners are asked to contact their veterinarian immediately if their pet has been exposed to hand sanitizers.

BVI citizens are asked to purchase hand sanitizers with 60 percent or above of Ethyl alcohol or Isopropyl alcohol and to put them on carefully and to not use them around an open flame as it may catch fire.

The ministry does not explain exactly how customers can tell whether fake hand sanitizers are falsely labeled, but it would perhaps be wise only to purchase from reputable stores and not from street or flea market vendors.

The public is further reminded that hands should be allowed to air dry after applying hand sanitizer and not wiped dry, as this makes the hand sanitizer ineffective, and that it is always better to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds if at all possible, and to only use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.