Virginia Poison Center sees spike in calls amid COVID-19

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — While stay-at-home orders remain in place, most people are taking advantage of the time to clean.

Products like soaps, hand sanitizers, bleaches, and other disinfectants can effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it’s important to properly use them to avoid accidental exposure. Poison Control Centers across the country are seeing a spike in calls, including right here in Central Virginia. Dr. Ruddy Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center, told 8News they’ve seen a 25-45 percent increase in calls since the pandemic struck.

“In Eastern/Central Virginia, our numbers parallel with what’s happening around the country, people are using cleaning products because of COVID and because of that, we are seeing a lot more poison exposures,” Dr. Rose said. “These are products like rubbing alcohol, bleach, disinfects.”

For the period March 1 – April 28, comparing 2020 to 2019 data, they have had increases in calls regarding the following:

  • Hand sanitizers:  48 percent increase
  • Bleach products:  100 percent increase (doubled)
  • Disinfectants: 96 percent increase
  • Rubbing alcohol: 33 percent increase

Dr. Rose said there are many reasons why calls are increasing. Some people are mixing cleaning chemicals together and unknowingly creating a toxic gas.

“We’ve had people who just over clean and get feeling sick because of fumes, we have people who are spraying their food and groceries when they come home, and then they worry about contaminating the groceries,” Dr. Rose said.

Others have even mistakenly and purposefully drank hand sanitizer that looks like alcohol.

“Unfortunately, some people will drink hand sanitizer because it contains lethal alcohol,” Dr. Rose said. “It wouldn’t take a whole lot of consumption of one of those products particularly in a child to cause some significant illness so we’re very concerned about that particularly in hand sanitizer products that look like their consumable beverages.”

A big concern is children who are exposed when cleaning products are left out/open or surfaces are still wet. Disinfectants are meant to be used on surfaces and not ingested.

“Children will touch them, put their fingers in their mouth,” Dr. Rose said.

It’s important to keep cleaning supplies out of children’s reach and use as directed on the label.

“The message here is that household products are not personal care products and they’re certainly not medicines,” Dr. Rose said.

Last week, President Donald Trump made headlines after his comments about injecting disinfectants to cure Coronavirus during a televised briefing of the administration’s Coronavirus task force.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in one minute. Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning … It would be interesting to check that,” Trump said. “It sounds interesting to me.”

He later clarified that he was being sarcastic.

Dr. Rose says the center has not seen an uptick in calls as a result of the President’s remarks.

“I know some centers across the country have,” Dr. Rose said. “We had no cases of injectable cleaning products. I think there was a joke call and somebody was perhaps joking about where you could get needles to inject bleach.”

VCU created a COVID-19 Hotline in March to answer calls in regards to coronavirus concerns. The number is (804) 628-7425. The number is housed in the Virginia Poison Center and is staffed 24 hours a day by registered nurses.


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