Poison Center Calls Spike as COVID-19 Spreads: Are You Safe?

ambulance responds to chemical exposure call
Photo by CandyBox Images / Shutterstock.com

Calls to poison centers about exposure to chemicals used as disinfectants and cleaners grew 20% in January through March compared with the same period last year, says a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Americans have come to rely more on disinfectants like hand sanitizer and cleaning agents like bleach because they can destroy the virus that causes COVID-19, as we explain in “5 Household Cleaners That Can Kill the Coronavirus.”

It’s easy to forget, though, that these tools are potentially dangerous and even can be lethal.

In the first three months of this year, 45,550 calls came in to U.S. poison control centers about exposure to cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, according to the CDC report, which was released on April 20.

That reflects an overall increase of 20.4% compared with the same three months of 2019 and is 16.4% more than in the same period in 2018. The biggest spike in these calls came in March.

The calls concerned chemical exposures by people of every age group, but the largest share of calls this year involved children age 5 and younger (35.7%), followed by people ages 20 to 59 (35.4%).

Two groups — people ages 6 to 19 and those age 60 and older — each accounted for between 8% and 9% of the calls, while ages were unknown for the rest of the calls.

Bleach, nonalcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers are among the chemicals that prompted the most calls to poison control centers.

The most common way that people reported being exposed to such chemicals was inhalation.

One example of an inhalation case from the CDC:

“An adult woman heard on the news to clean all recently purchased groceries before consuming them. She filled a sink with a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water, and soaked her produce. While cleaning her other groceries, she noted a noxious smell described as ‘chlorine’ in her kitchen. She developed difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing, and called 911. She was transported to the emergency department (ED) via ambulance and was noted to have mild hypoxemia [inadequate oxygen levels] and end-expiratory wheezing. She improved with oxygen and bronchodilators. Her chest radiograph was unremarkable, and she was discharged after a few hours of observation.”

(Mixing bleach and vinegar creates dangerous and potentially deadly chlorine gas, as we detail in “Never Mix These 4 Combinations of Cleaners.”)

The CDC researchers say they can’t directly link the increase in poison center calls about chemical exposures to the coronavirus pandemic.

But they point out that the increase corresponds with increased media coverage of the pandemic, reports of shortages of cleaning and disinfecting products, and initial stay-at-home orders from state and local governments.

Regardless of the reasons you might use household chemicals, you can take steps to protect yourself and others in your home from being exposed to these potentially dangerous substances.

The CDC recommends following these steps to avoid chemical accidents in your home:

  1. Follow all directions on product labels.
  2. Do not mix chemicals.
  3. When diluting a chemical, such as bleach, use only water that is at room temperature to dilute it.
  4. Use protective gear for your eyes and skin.
  5. Use products in a well-ventilated place.
  6. Store chemicals where children can’t reach them.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
How to Fix 6 Common Retirement Mistakes
How to Fix 6 Common Retirement Mistakes

Here’s how to strengthen your nest egg before or even during your golden years so these missteps don’t ruin your retirement.

5 Ways to Avoid Taxes on Social Security Income
5 Ways to Avoid Taxes on Social Security Income

Here’s how to minimize and delay the chunk that Uncle Sam claims.

10 Tools You Need for Financial Stability
10 Tools You Need for Financial Stability

Have these tools and accounts in place so you can weather whatever comes your way.

The 5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
The 5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

22 Purchases You Should Never Skimp On
22 Purchases You Should Never Skimp On

With some items, it makes sense to pay a little more rather than hopping on the lowest price.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Two factors determine how much money is coming to you.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on these familiar purchases. Yes, even pregnancy tests.

13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon
13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon

Every household should have these products on hand. Buying them in bulk on Amazon saves you cash.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

These vaccines may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.

9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline
9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline

Forget expensive specialty products. Good ol’ petroleum jelly can address many common annoyances.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

Not everything sold at dollar stores is a great bargain or a safe purchase. Here’s our list of products to avoid.

Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best
Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best

One brand takes five of the top honors, while another ranks highest in three categories.

41 Things You Should Never Buy
41 Things You Should Never Buy

Some purchases are just plain dumb. Give yourself — and your budget — a break. Don’t spend money on this stuff.

9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price
9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price

If you’re willing to pay a little more for these products, you may never have to shop for another again.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Is a Second Stimulus Check Still Coming?
Is a Second Stimulus Check Still Coming?

The status of another round of direct payments to taxpayers is a mix of good and bad news.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.