Calls To Poison Control Centers Spike Due To Overzealous Use Of Cleaning Supplies During Coronavirus

Calls are up 20 percent from this time last year.

rows of bleach on a store shelf
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Calls are up 20 percent from this time last year.

Americans have been so fastidious about cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic that some have managed to get themselves sick to the point they felt the need to call a poison control center, Slate reports.

Compared to the period of January, February, and March of 2019, calls to poison control centers are up by 20 percent for the same period this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). What’s more, a particularly significant spike in such calls occurred during the first week of March, back when the gravity and severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States was just beginning to be understood.

There are several reasons why the misuse or overuse of cleaning supplies during the pandemic could be causing an increase in accidental poisonings.

In some cases, people may be having difficulty buying certain cleaning supplies, so they may have attempted to make their own. This can lead to mixing chemicals, which can have disastrous results if not done correctly. For example, mixing bleach with ammonia and/or acids or other cleaners can produce a toxic gas.

Similarly, some Americans have somehow gotten their hands on industrial bleaches that are meant to first be diluted in water before use and have improperly diluted the product, causing them to get ill. In other cases, people used bleach or bleach-containing products in poorly-ventilated rooms, causing respiratory distress.

OREM, UT - OCTOBER 27: A worker stacks bottles of Steriplex on a pallet at sBioMed on October 27, 2014 in Orem, Utah. Steriplex is a non bleach, non toxic, and low corrosion disinfectant/sterilant that kills Ebola, Anthrax and other spores. The product was used to kill the Ebola Virus in the Dallas hospitals, and on the Frontier Plane that the first US Ebola patient flew on. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
  George Frey / Getty Images

Other Americans have bought into the false fear that their groceries may have gotten contaminated and have tried to perform an at-home sterilization process, to disastrous result. One woman, for example, soaked her produce in a mixture of vinegar, water, and 10 percent bleach solution, then later developed respiratory problems and had to be treated at the emergency room.

The CDC notes there is no need to disinfect groceries and — in the cases of fresh produce — simply washing them with soap and water will do.

Another problem is that the coronavirus pandemic has given children more opportunity to get into things, as they may be unsupervised. Due to schools being closed, kids are spending more time at home, though their parents have to work, meaning they may not be watched as closely as they should be.

Complicating the matter is the fact that some Americans, when told by a poison control center to go to the emergency room, have ignored that advice and stayed home, preferring instead to leave health-care resources available to coronavirus patients.

Dr. Joshua King of the Maryland Poison Control Center says there’s no need to disinfect household surfaces with chemical cleaners. Soap and water will be just as effective.