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

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.

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.

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.

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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“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.

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.

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

Poisoning symptoms

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

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

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

Teaching moment

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

“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.

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.

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