Poison control centers have received more chemical exposure calls so far this year than the previous two years, showing a possible temporal link to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC report, published Monday, collected call data from 55 poison centers in the U.S. It found that from January to March, poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners (28,158) and disinfectants (17,392), showing overall increases of 20.4% and 16.4% from the same three-month period last year and in 2018. Poison control centers received 37,822 exposure calls from January to March 2019 and 39,122 from January to March 2018.
While the data does not provide information showing “a definite link” between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, there appears to be a “clear temporal association with increased use of these products,” the study says.
To help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends the proper cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces.
The CDC and the American Association of Poison Control Centers surveyed chemical exposures between January and March and compared it to the same three-month period in 2018 and 2019 to see if there is an association between COVID-19 cleaning recommendations and the number of these exposures.
The daily number of calls to poison centers rose sharply at the beginning of March for exposures to cleaners and disinfectants and was seen across all age groups. Exposures among children five years old or younger made up a large percentage of the total calls, ranging from 39% to 47%, during the three-month study period for each year.
Bleaches accounted for the largest percentage (1,949, 62%) of the increase in chemical exposures between 2019 and 2020 while nonalcoholic disinfectants (1,684, 36.7%) and hand sanitizers (1,684; 36.7%) made up the largest percentage of the increase among disinfectants.
Inhalation made up the largest percentage increase from 2019 to 2020 among all exposure routes, with an increase of 35.3% (from 4,713 to 6,379) for all cleaners and an increase of 108.8% (from 569 to 1,188) for all disinfectants, the report shows.
The study shared two examples of the types of calls the poison control centers have received including an adult woman soaking her produce in a sink filled with a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar and hot water and a preschool-age child drinking an unknown amount of ethanol-based hand sanitizer.
“Associated with increased use of cleaners and disinfectants is the possibility of improper use, such as using more than directed on the label, mixing multiple chemical products together, not wearing protective gear, and applying in poorly ventilated areas,” the CDC said in its report.
To prevent improper use and unnecessary chemical exposures, the CDC recommends users always read directions on the label, only use water at room temperature for dilution, avoid mixing chemical products, wear eye and skin protection, store chemicals out of reach of children and ensure adequate ventilation.