COVID-19: Poison control centers report surge in accidental poisonings from cleaning products

May 1, 2020

Curious children are getting into their homes’ COVID-19 cleaning supplies and disinfectant products at an alarming rate, according to data from US Poison Control Centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As families under stay-at-home directives spend more time cleaning and disinfecting their homes to protect loved ones from COVID-19 infection, their children are finding ways to access these poisonous products and effect more calls to poison control centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that such calls related to cleaning supplies and disinfectants have increased across the United States so far this year, rising 20.4% for the months from January through March 2020 when compared with the same time period in 2019.1 Data was collected from the National Poison Data System (NPDS).

A high percentage of the calls to poison centers-35.7% of the total calls related to cleaning products and 46.9% of the calls regarding exposure to disinfectants-involved children aged younger than 5 years.

During January to March 2020, poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to products including bleach (28,158) and disinfectants (17,392), representing overall increases of 20.4% over January to March 2019 (37,822) and 16.4% over January to March 2018 (39,122), respectively. 

Temporal association of calls with current events

The CDC researchers say the temporal rise may be due to increasing parental attempts at sanitizing and disinfecting their home environments because of concerns over COVID-19. “Although a causal association cannot be demonstrated, 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,” they write.

However, the CDC cautions that even in a year without widespread infectious disease, cleaning products pose a health hazard to children, and this includes “natural” cleaning products as well. Ingestion of these substances is the most common incidence reported to the poison control centers, followed by inhalation, dermal contact, and exposure to the eyes.

Parents should contact their Poison Control Center immediately (800-222-1222) if they suspect their child has ingested any cleaning product, medication, drugs, or chemicals. There are 55 poison control centers serving all 50 states with free, 24-hour professional advice and medical management. These centers are funded by federal, state, local governments, and private entities.

To prevent unnecessary chemical exposures to children in the home, the CDC advises parents to always read and follow directions on the product labels; only use water at room temperature for dilution (unless stated otherwise on the label); avoid mixing chemical products; wear eye and skin protection; ensure adequate ventilation; and store chemicals out of the reach of children.

References:

1.    Chang A, Schnall AH, Law R, et al. Cleaning and disinfectant chemical exposures and temporal associations with COVID-19-National Poison Data System, United States, January 1, 2020-March 31, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(16):496-498. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6916e1.htm?s_cid=mm6916e1_w