Background: Ethanol-based hand sanitizers (EBHSs) are used in most health care facilities in the United States. Infection control personnel advocate the use of generous quantities of EBHS before and after contact with patients. Although it is assumed that little systemic absorption of ethanol occurs during EBHS use, many alcohols are absorbed to varying degrees via the transdermal route. Ethanol intoxication by employees in the medical workplace is a potentially serious finding, and it is of forensic and medical-legal importance to elucidate the effects of frequent use of EBHS upon serum blood ethanol levels (BELs). To investigate the effect of frequent use of EBHS upon serum blood ethanol concentrations, we prospectively studied 5 volunteers undergoing frequent application of EBHS.
Methods: Enrolled subjects applied 5 mL of the product (62% denatured ethyl alcohol manufactured by Kimberley-Clark, Roswell, GA) to both hands and rubbed until dry. This activity was repeated 50 times over 4 hours. Participants had their blood drawn before as well as after completing the study. Each participant was without alcohol exposure during the 12 hours preceding the study.
Results: Five volunteers were enrolled. All had an initial blood ethanol level of less than 5 mg/dL. All 5 participants completed the 4-hour study. There were no noted adverse reactions during the study. Blood ethanol level upon completion of the 50 applications of EBHS was less than 5 mg/dL in all 5 study participants.
Conclusion: The results of this study demonstrate that use of ethanol-based hand sanitizers, when frequently used in accordance with labeling, do not raise serum blood ethanol levels.