Authorities are having another look at their provision of alcohol-based hand rub after an alcoholic patient drank six bottles of hand sanitizers at The Alfred hospital, Melbourne, Australia. This was the alcohol equivalent of about 20 glasses of beer. Doctors reported the incident in The Medical Journal of Australia yesterday.
They said the 45-year-old man was being treated for alcohol-related gastritis when they discovered six empty 375-millilitre containers of Aqium Gel in his bed. The hand rub has an ethanol content of 66 per cent and is ubiquitous in hospitals so staff can keep their hands clean. It is usually kept in wire baskets from which it can be easily removed. About 40 minutes after the empty bottles were found, the man admitted drinking the gel and recorded a blood-alcohol reading of 0.271 per cent - five times the legal driving limit. The doctors reported that he made a full recovery, but said it came after a string of similar incidents, including some overseas, that led to patients becoming seriously ill.
The authors write, “Experience at our institution over the past six months suggests that consumption of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by inpatients may be an increasing problem in [Australia] - we are aware of a further three patients who have consumed these products while at our institution.”
Director of physician training at The Alfred hospital, Dr Michael Oldmeadow, said the incident had surprised staff who had not really considered the potential for patients to drink the gel. “It's a horrible gel … it's nearly twice as strong as whisky so you're doing well to get that down,” he said. He added that the man had been lucky to survive. He said although the incident was not the first of its kind, it was the most serious case he had seen.
He added that The Alfred was now discussing whether it could source a sanitizer with a repellent that makes it unpalatable or whether they could be fixed to the walls to prevent them being removed. Staff were also considering high-risk locations such as rooms where drug addicts, including alcoholics, are treated. He added, “We all need to be aware of this now.”