SYDNEY – A man who drank six bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer while being treated in an Australian hospital for alcoholism has sparked calls for the anti-bacterial gels to be better secured.
Doctors said in a letter published Sunday in the Medical Journal of Australia that they were stunned to discover the man had downed six 375-milliliter (12.7-ounce) bottles of hand sanitizer, giving him a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.271 percent. That's more than five times higher than the 0.05 percent legal limit for driving in Australia.
Dr. Michael Oldmeadow, an internist at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne city, said that although the incident was not the first of its kind, it was the most serious case he had seen and the man is lucky to have survived.
"It surprised us that he drank this stuff," Oldmeadow said, according to the Australian Associated Press. "It's horrendous. You'd think it would taste pretty bad."
The 45-year-old had been undergoing treatment for alcohol-related gastritis when he drank the sanitizer. The gel has an ethanol content of 66 percent and is routinely used by medical staff to prevent infection.
The man had been admitted to hospital three days earlier and suddenly became drowsy for no apparent reason. After nurses cleaning his bed discovered the near-empty sanitizer bottles, the man admitted to drinking the sanitizer and agreed to undergo a breath test.
When the incident occurred was unclear, but Oldmeadow and three of his colleagues said in the letter that three other patients also drank hand sanitizer at The Alfred in the last six months.
They said the incident highlighted the need for hospitals to bolt hand sanitizer bottles to walls so they could only be refilled but never removed. In Australian hospitals, the bottles are commonly held in wire baskets and are easily removed, but the doctors said at least one U.S. hospital is using non-removable dispensers.