CDC Reports Poisoning from Exposure to Cleaners Saw Sharpest Increases Amid Coronavirus Lockdown

Poisonings caused by cleaners and disinfectants have been on the rise as people have been increasingly using the products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Monday report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that poisonings during the first three months of 2020 rose by more than 20 percent over last year. Poison control centers reported 45,550 calls related to disinfectant and cleaner exposures from January to March of this year, compared with 37,822 during the same time last year.

The CDC says the statistics "do no not provide information showing a definitive link" between the calls and COVID-19, but the timing of the increase shows a "clear" association. Exposures increased the most in March, the month when U.S. cases began to rise significantly and stay-at-home orders were issued in most areas of the country.

Reported poisonings from bleach increased by over 60 percent, while incidents related to hand sanitizers and non-alcohol disinfectants each rose by more than a third. The most common route of exposure was ingestion, although inhalation exposures increased the most, with disinfectant inhalation calls more than doubling compared to last year.

Child grabbing bottle of bleach
As cleaner and disinfectant poisonings have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, a large proportion of calls to poison control centers have concerned incidents involving children. Antonio_Diaz/Getty

A large share of the calls concerned incidents involving children. More than a third of all cleaner poisonings were in children under 5, while almost a half of disinfectant incidents were reported in the same age group. Hand sanitizer poisonings in children aged 12 or younger hit a daily peak of 130 incidents reported on March 12, the day after the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization.

Two example cases were included in the report. The first involved a woman who attempted to clean produce by filling her sink with hot water and a solution of bleach and vinegar. The combination created a toxic chlorine gas, causing the woman to have difficulty breathing. She called 911 and was taken to the hospital by ambulance, before being released after a few hours of treatment including oxygen therapy.

The second case involved a young child who became dizzy, fell and hit her head after ingesting an ethanol-based hand sanitizer. She was taken to the hospital and found to have a high blood alcohol level, more than three times the legal limit for driving a car. She was treated for two days, including the first night in a pediatric intensive care unit, before being released.

Poisoning incidents may have increased even more sharply than the report suggests, since the report was based on statistics of calls received by poison control centers only, and statistics concluded at the end of March.

The CDC offered advice for reducing the number of accidental poisonings. Tips include wearing protective gear while cleaning, diluting chemicals with only water, following instructions on labels, using chemicals in well-ventilated areas and avoiding mixing chemicals. Keeping cleaners and disinfectants out of the reach of children was also advised.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for comment.