Poison center calls rise with coronavirus cleaning

With disinfectants and sanitizers more prevalent, kids may find danger easily

A baby peers out from the middle of bottles of cleaning supplies

Nationwide, reports of accidental poisonings are increasing as the public copes with slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

More people are spending more time in the home. At the same time, they are increasing their use of cleaning products and disinfectants out of concern for keeping their dwellings free of the virus.

Additionally, parents have a lot going on these days. Combining job responsibilities with traditional parental roles can lead to less supervision.

Learn more: Children’s safety and parenting services at Sanford Health

“It can all lead to a greater risk of unintentional poisoning,” said Diane Hall, project coordinator for the Sanford Poison Center. “Anytime you disrupt a schedule or regimen, things can happen. ”

Though it varies week to week, the poison control center has seen a small uptick in calls involving bleach-enhanced disinfectants and sanitizers.

FDA warns about sanitizer packaging

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about alcohol-based hand sanitizers packaged in containers that may appear as food or drinks and may put consumers at risk of serious injury or death if ingested.

The agency has discovered that some hand sanitizers are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. Additionally, the FDA has found hand sanitizers that contain food flavors, such as chocolate or raspberry.

“These products could confuse consumers into accidentally ingesting a potentially deadly product. It’s dangerous to add scents with food flavors to hand sanitizers which children could think smells like food, eat and get alcohol poisoning,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Manufacturers should be vigilant about packaging and marketing their hand sanitizers in food or drink packages in an effort to mitigate any potential inadvertent use by consumers. The FDA continues to monitor these products and we’ll take appropriate actions as needed to protect the health of Americans.”

In one recent example of consumer confusion, the FDA received a report that a consumer purchased a bottle they thought to be drinking water but was in fact hand sanitizer. The agency also received a report from a retailer about a hand sanitizer product marketed with cartoons for children that was in a pouch that resembles a snack.

Drinking only a small amount of hand sanitizer is potentially lethal to a young child, who may be attracted by a pleasant smell or brightly colored bottle of hand sanitizer.

Keep Poison Help Line handy

There are many ways of reducing the chance of an accidental poisoning. The first step, however, is to call (800) 222-1222 before potentially dangerous situations arise.

That’s the Poison Help Line. Keep the number on your refrigerator and keep it in your phone, Hall advised. And do not hesitate to use it. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It gives access to medical experts available to answer questions and provide resources that relate to exposures to commonly used products like hand sanitizers, cleaning products and medicines.

“Unintentional poisoning can occur from swallowing, inhaling, touching or injecting various drugs, chemicals, venoms or gases,” Hall said. “Do not induce vomiting or use home remedies since these can be ineffective and potentially lead to greater complications. And if a person is unconscious or not breathing, call 911.”

The Poison Control Center (sdpoison.org) has a wealth of educational resources including an excellent online training course that can assist in helping make a home safer.

That information includes a lot about protecting children, who can be particularly vulnerable when chemicals and disinfectants are out in the open.

Watch the kids

“That’s how little kids learn. They touch, they feel, they taste. They’re constantly sharing germs and putting things in their mouth,” Hall said. “An adult might mistakenly put something in their mouth and then spit it out because it tastes bad. But little kids are not adults, and sometimes they’ll do things that don’t make sense to us. They’ll pop something awful into their mouth and swallow it.”

There are all kinds of common items that can be poisonous in this world, in other words. It means potentially harmful products should remain in proper containers. Take care to keep these products out of reach of children.

“Don’t put gasoline in a Gatorade bottle, for instance,” Hall said. “Most products are innocuous if used properly, but if manufacturers’ instructions are not followed, they can be harmful, especially for children. Keep a watchful eye on the children, and store all those chemicals away from their reach — things like cosmetics and medication in addition to disinfectants and cleaning products.”

Safety review

  • Save the Poison Control number. Families should put the Poison Control number — (800) 222-1222, U.S. only — in, on or near their phones. Hang it on your refrigerator, save it in your cell phone contacts or put it in any location that works best for you. Best-case scenario? You never need it. Worst-case scenario? You don’t waste precious moments looking up the number.
  • Save the Poison Control website or app. Place poisoncontrol.org as a browser favorite, or download the app on your cell phone. Again, you might never need it, but if you do, you will appreciate having it readily available.
  • Know when to call Poison Control and when to call 911. If your child collapses, stops breathing or has a seizure, call 911.
  • Update yourself on CPR and abdominal thrusts. Find a basic CPR course and freshen up your skills. Most of the time it may be a life-saving measure for your children before any emergency help arrives.

This story was originally published May 12, 2020. It was updated Sept. 15, 2020, with the FDA warning about hand sanitizer packaged in food and drink containers.

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Posted In Children's, Coronavirus, Emergency Medicine, Parenting