Three people have died, three are in critical condition, and one is permanently blind after ingesting hand sanitizer that contained methanol, the New Mexico Department of Health announced Friday.

The earliest case was reported to the New Mexico Poison Control and Drug Information Center on May 7 and the rest occurred after May 29, according to officials.

A spokesman from the Health Department said the cases were related to alcoholism, noting that hand sanitizer is sometimes consumed for its high alcohol content.

The announcement came a week after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers against buying nine sanitizer products manufactured in Mexico because they contain methanol, which can be toxic if absorbed through the skin or ingested.

Whether the products involved in the deaths were among those listed in the advisory is under investigation, according to the Health Department.

Brandon Warrick, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico who is certified in emergency medicine, medical toxicology and addiction, said that in nearly a decade of working at poison centers, the recent spate represented the largest number of methanol poisoning cases that he had observed.


Warrick, who works at the New Mexico Poison Control and Drug Information Center, said that the cases stretched across two states and multiple counties.

Hand sanitizer usually contains ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, Warrick said, but is toxic when it contains methanol.

Swallowing methanol can be lethal, he said. For those who survive, brain damage or blindness are common side effects because the toxin damages the optic nerve and the brain.

According to the FDA, the toxin can also cause kidney damage.

Historically, a greater number of methanol poisonings have occurred in times when alcohol is difficult to come by, Warrick said.

“Since hand sanitizer is hard to find in the COVID era, I suspect there is an association with COVID,” he said.

If a person ingests hand sanitizer he or she should seek medical care immediately.