Hand Sanitizers, Breathalyzers, and Indications of Intoxication

Clean hands, skulduggery and/or incompetence can, if combined, lead to a muddle about drunkenness, suggests this study:

vilkeCommon Hand Sanitizer May Distort Readings of Breathalyzer Tests in the Absence of Acute Intoxication,” Syed S. Ali, Michael P. Wilson, Edward M. Castillo, Peter Witucki, Todd T. Simmons, Gary M. Vilke [pictured here], Academic Emergency Medicine, vol. 20, no. 2,  February 2013, pp. 212-215. The authors, at the University of California San Diego and other institutions in San Diego, report:

“To the authors’ knowledge, no previous study has examined whether application of ethanol-based hand sanitizers by the person operating a common breathalyzer machine will affect the accuracy of the readings. This was a prospective study investigating whether the use of hand sanitizer applied according to manufacturer’s recommendations (Group I), applied improperly at standard doses (Group II), or applied improperly at high doses (Group III) had an effect on breathalyzer readings of individuals who had not ingested alcohol….

“Conclusions: The use of common alcohol-based hand sanitizer may cause false-positive readings with a standard hospital breathalyzer when the operator uses the hand sanitizer correctly. The breathalyzer readings are further elevated if more sanitizer is used or if it is not allowed to dry appropriately.”

(HT The Poison Review and to Deborah Blum, the Queen of Poison Penmanship.)

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