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There’s been a sharp increase in calls to poison control because of disinfectants

Customers shopped for cleaning products as market employees restocked shelves in Aspen, Colo., last month. Reports of accidental poisonings from cleaners and disinfectants are up sharply, and researchers believe it's related to the coronavirus pandemic.Kelsey Brunner/Associated Press

Poison control centers saw a sharp increase in reports of chemical exposure to cleaners and disinfectants between January and March, as people began using sanitizers and other items with greater frequency amid the coronavirus pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

The CDC disclosed the information Monday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to the report, between January and March the nation’s 55 poison control centers received 45,550 calls related to exposures to cleaners and disinfectants. The breakdown included 28,158 calls related to cleaners and 17,392 reports linked to disinfectants, the CDC said, an increase of 20.4 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, over the same period last year.


The report said that while researchers haven’t drawn a “definite link” between the spike in exposures and COVID-19 prevention efforts through the use of cleaning supplies, “there appears to be a clear temporal association with increased use of these products.”

The CDC cited one case involving a woman who heard an advisory on the news to clean recently purchased groceries before consuming them. The woman, whose name and hometown weren’t disclosed in the report, filled a sink with a mixture of 10 percent bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water and soaked her produce, according to the CDC.

While cleaning her other groceries, the report said, she noted a “noxious” smell resembling chlorine in her kitchen and had trouble breathing, and also started coughing and wheezing. She called 911 and was taken to a hospital, where her condition improved with “oxygen and bronchodilators,” the report said. She was released after a few hours.

In another case, the report said, a preschool aged child became dizzy after ingesting an unknown amount of hand sanitizer from a 64-ounce bottle, and she fell and hit her head. The girl vomited while being transported to the hospital, the report said, and she spent the night in a pediatric intensive care unit. The child was discharged from the hospital after 48 hours, following “improved mental status,” the CDC said.


The CDC said the timing of the increased exposure reports “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.”

In addition, the report included some tips for guarding against improper use of cleaners and disinfectants.

“To reduce improper use and prevent unnecessary 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 CDC said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.