Poisonings related to cleaners and disinfectants surged in the US last month as the global pandemic spurred a haphazard rush to disinfect everything.

Calls to state and local poison control centers tied to cleaners and disinfectants rose 20% in the first quarter to 45,550, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complaints included shortness of breath from inhalation and dizziness and vomiting from ingestion.

“Calls to poison centers increased sharply at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants,” according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. While the increase affected all age groups, children 5 and under were disproportionately impacted.

One adult woman described in the report developed breathing difficulties and wheezing after filling her sink with 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water to soak her produce. That led to a noxious odor and then an ambulance ride to the emergency room to get oxygen and broncho-dilators. The woman improved after a few hours.

In another case, a preschool-age child swallowed an unknown amount of ethanol-based hand sanitizer. She got dizzy, fell and hit her head, and then vomited on the way to the ER. Her blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit for driving in most states. She recovered after two days in the hospital.

To prevent chemical exposures, “users should always read and follow directions on the label, 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,” the report concludes.

–With assistance from Sarah Ponczek.


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