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Coronavirus: Poison center calls up 20% as people go overboard on cleaning products, CDC says

A worker with CleanHarbors sprays disinfectant inside a Marin County Fire Department ambulance on April 14, 2020 in Greenbrae, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

The fear of getting the coronavirus appears to have helped drive a 20% increase in U.S. poison center calls over the last three months as more Americans suffered from potentially toxic exposure to chemicals in cleaning and disinfectant products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. 

U.S. poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants from January through March, a 20.4% increase from a year ago and a 16.4% increase from the same three months in 2018, according to a new CDC report published Monday, using data from the National Poison Data System.

Although the NPDS data does not provide information showing a link between exposures and the cleaning efforts due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 761,900 people across the United States, there appears to be a “clear temporal association with increased use of these products,” U.S. health officials wrote in their findings.

The increase in total calls was seen across all age groups, the CDC found, however, exposures among children under the age of five “consistently represented” a large percentage of total calls in the first three months for each year.

That includes a preschool-age child who was found unresponsive at home and transported to an emergency room after drinking ethanol-based hand sanitizer, the CDC said.

“According to her family, she became dizzy after ingesting an unknown amount, fell and hit her head. She vomited while being transported to the ED, where she was poorly responsive,” the CDC wrote.

The CDC also said an adult woman developed difficulty breathing and was transported to the emergency room after hearing on the news to clean all recently purchased groceries before consuming them and then soaking her produce in a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar and hot water.

“She was transported to the emergency department via ambulance and was noted to have mild hypoxemia and end-expiratory wheezing. She improved with oxygen and bronchodilators,” the agency said.

Bleaches accounted for the largest percentage of the increase of calls about cleaning products, the CDC said, while nonalcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers accounted for the largest percentages of the increase among disinfectant categories.

The CDC recommends that users always read and follow directions on the label, avoid mixing chemical products, wear eye and skin protection, ensure adequate ventilation and store chemicals out of the reach of children.

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