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Poison centers see jump in calls related to bleach, household cleaners

cleaning products. Bleach, detergents.

cleaning products. Bleach, detergents. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/tarasov_vl

New York State's poison control centers have seen increases in calls related to bleach and other household cleaners, which one official linked to the anxiety created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The two poison centers in the state — the Upstate Poison Control Center, based in Syracuse, and the New York City Poison Control Center — reported increases in calls and cases involving household cleaners since March, coinciding with the broad emergence of the virus in the United States.

The Upstate Poison Control Center, which covers 54 of the state's 62 counties, logged 228 calls involving bleach between March 1 and April 23, up from 113 during the same period last year, said Michele Caliva, the center's administrative director. 

Caliva said the upstate poison control center received 805 calls for all cleaning products in 2020. In 2019, the center got 614 such calls.

The New York City Poison Control Center, which covers the five boroughs of the city, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, also reported increases in cases.

Both poison control centers said no fatalities resulted from exposure to cleaning products.

According to an emailed statement from the city's poison control spokesman Michael Lanza, between March 1 and April 23, the center had 598 cases concerning bleach. In the same time period in 2019, the center had 140 such cases. (He said each case could represent multiple interactions or calls).

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For all other household cleaners, Lanza said the city poison control center had 917 cases between March 1 and April 23, compared with 704 cases during the same period a year ago.

The breakdown for Long Island, according to Lanza: Nassau in 2020: 153 cases for all household cleaners (including 69 for bleach); and Suffolk: 126 cases for household cleaners (including 48 for bleach). Nassau in 2019: 71 cases for all household cleaners (including 9 for bleach); Suffolk, 70 cases for all cleaners (including 12 for bleach).

This has been a nationwide issue. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from January through March 2020, poison control centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners (28,158) and disinfectants (17,392), representing overall increases of 20% and 16% from January through March 2019 (37,822) and January through March 2018 (39,122), respectively.

The poison control centers are receiving federal grants to do increased education and outreach.

"What we’re hearing anecdotally is people are using these products more frequently," Caliva said. She said someone called who had "mixed bleach with ammonia [to clean], because they were anxious about getting the virus." That's dangerous, Caliva said, "because you actually cause another gas to form, a chlorine, that can be terribly irritating to the respiratory tract. They do this in the bathroom, which are typically small, close spaces, so they get overcome by the fumes."

Caliva added, "It is that overzealous concern about washing everything. People are washing plastic containers [with cleaning solvents] and now are saying the food tastes funny."

When President Donald Trump late Thursday mused about whether people could inject disinfectant into the body to somehow cleanse it of the virus, Caliva said the poison center received several calls inquiring about the safety of doing this.

"I looked at calls from the 23rd [when Trump made his comments] to today around cleaning substances. It was around 90 of them," Caliva said yesterday. "What I can definitively tell you, they specifically referenced the safety and efficacy of doing that. It wasn’t somebody saying they had injected it, it was 'Is this a safe thing to do?' " She noted it was not.

"The callers desperately wanted confirmation that it was an OK, safe thing to do," Caliva said. "They're looking for some magic cure." 

"In the 18 hours prior to 3 p.m. Friday, April 24, the New York City Poison Control Center managed 9 cases specifically about exposure to Lysol, 10 cases specifically about bleach and 11 cases about exposure to other household cleaners," Lanza said in a statement.


 

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