Poison control centers report spike in disinfectant-related calls amid coronavirus

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Poison control centers across the U.S. have reported an increase by 20 percent in calls being made regarding exposure to cleaners and disinfectants amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did note that the data does not show a “definite link” between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, the agency said the number of calls did spike at the beginning of March 2020, which is when many local health agencies began issuing advisories.

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“Although a casual association cannot be demonstrated, the timing of these reported exposures correspond to increased media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of consumer shortages of cleaning and disinfectant products, and the beginning of some local and state stay-at-home orders.”

One case highlighted by the CDC involved a woman who said she heard on the news to clean all groceries before consuming them and did so by filling her sink with a mixture of bleach, vinegar, and hot water. The woman developed difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing so she called 911 and was treated with oxygen and bronchodilators.

Another case involved a pre-school aged child who was found unresponsive at home near a 64-ounce bottle of ethanol-based hand sanitizer.

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“According to her family, she became dizzy after ingesting an unknown amount, fell and hit her head,” the CDC reported. “She vomited while being transported to the ED, where she was poorly unresponsive. Her blood-alcohol level was elevated at 273 mg/dL; neuroimaging did not indicate traumatic injuries.”

She was discharged after 48 hours.

The two cases are demonstrative of the CDC’s findings that the increase in calls was seen across all age groups. It also noted that in the cleaner category, bleaches accounted for the largest percentage of increases, while nonalcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers accounted for the largest increase among disinfectants.

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The CDC said the data likely underestimates the total incidence and severity of poisonings because it is limited to persons calling poison centers for assistance.

The health agency advises consumers to follow label directions while cleaning, to avoid mixing chemicals, to wear protective gloves, use in a well-ventilated area, and to store chemicals out of reach of children.