What if the very item that was designed to clean you caused a life-threatening infection? It sounds like a terrible joke, but for U.S. patients taking the drugs that are injected (like people with multiple sclerosis/MS or diabetes) the alcohol pads, swabs and swabsticks included in the drug’s packaging, could have been deadly. The FDA announced this alcohol prep product recall on its website earlier this month, which may have gone unnoticed by some patients. The alcohol pad products were recalled because they may have been contaminated with the bacteria, Bacillus cereus, a bug that can cause serious life-threatening infections to people with conditions that suppress the immune system, such as MS. It might be surprising to find out that alcohol and other disinfectants do not kill all bacteria–such as C. difficile spores, which is a prevalent problem in US hospitals. Bacillus cereus is one of those spore type bacteria that can survive in alcohol.

The FDA’s MedWatch program is an important resource for consumers to stay informed about medical safety information and to tip the FDA about adverse reactions they might have experienced with prescription drugs or medical devices. Those reports can lead to recalls or other actions to protect the public. To sign up for FDA’s MedWatch safety alerts, click here. For information on how to report a problem with a drug or product to the FDA, click here.

It would be a lot easier to stay informed about our drugs and products if there were less recalls–there have already been five drug recalls in 2011. All too often, patients and consumers don’t find out about these recalls until it’s too late. That could have been the case for a colleague of ours, Eric, at Consumers Union, who was notified about the recall after the product was already sitting in his fridge! Eric made a video of this scary situation so that people could be more aware of recalls.

2-15-11 UPDATE:
The family of a 2-year-old from Houston has gone public about the death of their son due to acute bacterial meningitis caused by Bacillus cereus. This is the same bacteria responsible for the Jan. 5 recall of all lots of alcohol prep wipes, perhaps tens of millions of swabs and pads manufactured by the Triad Group. Read the MSNBC story here.

2-22-11 UPDATE: FDA knew of problems at plant that made tainted alcohol wipes