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People are poisoning themselves with cleaning supplies as coronavirus spreads: study

Accidental poisonings from cleaning supplies, disinfectants rising during pandemic
ABOVE: Accidental poisonings from cleaning supplies, disinfectants rising during pandemic

As the new coronavirus continues to pose a threat, people are using household disinfectants and cleaning products more often — something that may be introducing new dangers, according to a recent study.

Calls to poison control centres in the United States have been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the report published by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s possible this is due to increased use of cleaning and disinfecting supplies.

Researchers at the CDC compared the number of calls about poisonings caused by disinfectants (like hand sanitizer) and cleaning supplies (like bleach) from January to March in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

READ MORE: Ontario produce cleaner repurposed to sanitize N95 masks and help fight against COVID-19

In 2020, U.S. poison control centres received 20.4 per cent more calls compared to 2019, and 16.4 per cent more calls compared to 2018.

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The majority of calls in 2020 were about poisonings in children five years old and younger — roughly 35 per cent involved cleaners and nearly 47 per cent were about disinfectants.

In the report, researchers admit it’s difficult to establish a direct link between the poisonings and an increased use of cleaners and disinfectants.

How effective are hand sanitizers against coronavirus?
How effective are hand sanitizers against coronavirus?

However, the report says that the increase in calls about poisonings began around the same time as the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“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 and the beginning of some local and state stay-at-home orders,” authors wrote.

For Dr. Dina Kulik, founder and medical director at Kidcrew Medical in Toronto, accidental poisoning is a major cause for concern — especially when children are around.

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READ MORE: How to clean to fight COVID-19? Vinegar won’t work, expert says

“People are using more alcohol, more peroxide, more bleach products and tons of other commercially available products” in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, said Kulik.

Now more than ever, these products need to be used and stored carefully and out of reach.

“People are leaving the products out in their kitchens or their bathrooms because they’re using it so much, but this leaves others at risk,” she said.

“[They] should absolutely be kept far away from kids.”

Potential risks to children from household cleaning products
Potential risks to children from household cleaning products

The toxic chemicals that make up many disinfectants and cleaners can have severe adverse effects if they’re used improperly. In some situations, they can even cause death.

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“Using hand sanitizer is one thing; ingesting it is another,” Kulik said. “Using bleach on surfaces is one thing; touching it on your skin and breathing it in is another.”

Below, Kulik offers some tips for keeping you and your family safe.

Don’t DIY

“I’ve seen a lot of people mixing things, following … instructional videos,” Kulik said. “That could be very dangerous.”

Unless you have a scientific background, Kulik fears people won’t know the chemical reactions they’re creating — or the possible harmful impacts of those chemicals if the product is inhaled, ingested or touches the skin.

Different chemicals can “burn skin, hurt your eyes, could be lethal [if ingested], could explode,” Kulik said.

READ MORE: How effective are household cleaners in fighting coronavirus?

Label everything

It’s common for people to dilute a chemical like bleach with water, mixing the solution in a new, unlabeled spray bottle.

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According to Kulik, this could be a recipe for disaster.

“A child may look [at it] and think, ‘oh, this is fun’ and spray it onto their face or their eyes,” Kulik said. “We need to be really careful… instead of leaving things out, lock them away.”
Research finds link between breathing issues and cleaning products
Research finds link between breathing issues and cleaning products

Also, include a label so that even adults don’t get confused.

“Make sure you write [what it is] in big, huge letters on the bottle. Don’t leave things nondescript,” said Kulik.
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Poisoning symptoms

There are some symptoms which can indicate poisoning that parents should watch for.

“It depends on what body part [the poison] has touched,” Kulik said.

Red, watery, irritated eyes, mouth pain, drooling, choking, gagging, difficulty breathing, vomiting and stomach pain can all indicate an accidental poisoning.

READ MORE: How are Canada’s biggest airlines cleaning planes amid coronavirus outbreak?

If symptoms are present, Kulik says you should first call 9-1-1 and then poison control.

“Don’t induce vomiting, don’t give them anything to eat or drink,” Kulik said. “Wait until you talk to [a professional] before doing anything.”
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Teaching moment

The novel coronavirus outbreak presents a good opportunity to teach your children about viruses, cleaning products and safety.

“[Tell them] why you’re cleaning, why you need to wash your hands so often, why you can’t go outside,” Kulik said.

“Tell them we’re cleaning our surfaces so we don’t pass the bug on and get other people sick.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca