COVID-19 pandemic causes surge in poison exposures

COVID-19 pandemic causes surge in poison exposures

With people more focused than ever before on sanitizing their homes in order to protect their families against COVID-19, experts are warning people to use caution when using cleaning products.

The Illinois Poison Center (IPC) reported in 2020 that exposures to cleaning products are up 30% compared to the same time in 2019. The IPC shared the following examples of exposures they are seeing as a result of COVID-19:

  • People using non-traditional chemicals to wash their hands (e.g. bleach, hydrogen peroxide, wipes, etc.) instead of regular hand soap resulting in rash/irritation and cracked skin.
  • People using chemicals (e.g. bleach, wipes, cleaning powders) to wash their groceries, including produce and are then concerned about toxicity upon ingestion;
  • Mixing cleaning chemicals together and inadvertently producing toxic gas; and
  • Pediatric exposures to cleaning products left open/unattended.

“The effects of poison ingestion range from an upset stomach to respiratory distress to death in severe cases,” explains Alix McNulty, an infection prevention specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “If you know your child ingested a poison, call Poison Control right away. They will provide step-by-step instructions, based on the product the child consumed. If you suspect your child got into a cleaning product that they shouldn’t have but there’s no evidence, still immediately call Poison Control.”

McNulty says parents can protect their children and prevent accidental poisonings with the following precautions:

  • Look at your house through the eyes of a child. Toddlers are often eye-level with cleaning products that are stored on the floor or in low cabinets easily opened. Examine each room in the house to see what items are within a child’s reach that they might find attractive.
  • Move dangerous products up high and out of sight. Keep toxic cleaners and medicines in a cabinet where a child cannot reach or see what’s inside.
  • Know Poison Control’s help number. Put the number to Poison Control (1.800.222.1222) in your mobile phone and display it on or near every landline. They are a valuable resource to parents and caregivers in case of an emergency.

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  1. Has there been or would you consider writing an article addressing the proper way to clean vegetables (if differently) during the covid crisis. Especially berries, fruit that is eaten fresh not cooked.

  2. I stopped buying most sanitizers and harsh chemicals around when the pandemic caused people to start behaving so irrationally. It was too hard to find my usual brands in stores. I started using a lot of plant-based naturally scented non-antibacterial dish soaps and multipurpose cleaners and just continued on with my general 1:10 bleach spray for my shower and hard surface sanitizing needs, easily neutralized with hydrogen peroxide if needed. Anyway I use less antibacterial less hand sanitizer less cleaning chemicals and less sani-wipes than ever and I’m as healthy as a horse. I had the COVIG assay done before getting my immunizations as well and there’s zero chance I was ever exposed according to the results.

    Don’t be irrational. Use common sense. Wash your hands.

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.