Calls to poison control centers regarding exposure to household cleaners and disinfectants have surged amid the coronavirus pandemic. A new study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that from January through March, there were 45,550 calls to poison centers related to cleaners and disinfectants, up 20.4 percent and 16.4 percent from that same three-month period last year.
"The daily number of calls to poison centers increased sharply at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants," the report reads in part. "The increase in total calls was seen across all age groups; however, exposures among children aged ≤5 years consistently represented a large percentage of total calls in the 3-month study period for each year."
In one such case, a preschool-aged child was taken to the hospital after they were found unresponsive at home. The child had reportedly ingested an unknown amount of ethanol-based hand sanitizer, became dizzy, fell, and hit her head. They were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit overnight and discharged 48 hours later.
In a second provided example, an adult woman had mild hypoxemia and end-expiratory wheezing after she filled a sink with a mixture of bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water to soak her produce after hearing on the news that groceries should be cleaned before consuming. The woman developed difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing and was transported to the emergency room.
The report notes that "NPDS data likely underestimate the total incidence and severity of poisonings" due to the fact that they are limited to persons calling poison centers for assistance. It also notes that although the data doesn't show a definitive link between the increase in calls and the coronavirus pandemic, "the timing of these reported exposures corresponded to increased media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of consumer shortages of cleaning and disinfection products (4), and the beginning of some local and state stay-at-home orders."
"Exposures to cleaners and disinfectants reported to NPDS increased substantially in early March 2020. Associated with increased use of cleaners and disinfectants is the possibility of improper use, such as using more than directed on the label, mixing multiple chemical products together, not wearing protective gear, and applying in poorly ventilated areas," the report reads.
The CDC reminds people to read and follow directions when handling chemicals, to only use water at room temperature for dilution, avoid mixing chemical products, wear proper protective gear, such as eye and skin protection, make sure there is adequate ventilation, and store chemicals out of the reach of children.