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In early months of pandemic, calls to poison control went up for incidents with cleaning agents

Young children are most at risk, the report found.
Image: Volunteers accept PPE to be donated to healthcare workers in Chicago
Bleach and sanitizers have been the subject of a growing number of calls to poison control centers, accrording to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Joshua Lott / Reuters file

As coronavirus cases increase across the United States, so have calls to poison control centers for incidents related to cleaning products.

A report published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 20 percent increase in calls related to cleaning agents in 2020, compared to this time last year.

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"The daily number of calls to poison centers increased sharply at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants," the authors of the report wrote.

During the first three months of this year, 45,550 such calls were made to poison control centers nationwide. The number is likely an underestimate of the actual number of accidental poisonings, the authors wrote, because the report does not account for incidents that were either treated at home or did not involve a call to poison control centers.

Most calls involved young children under age 5.

The report detailed one case of a preschool-age child who was found unresponsive at home near an open container of ethanol-based hand sanitizer.

"According to her family, she became dizzy after ingesting an unknown amount, fell and hit her head," the report stated.

The child's blood alcohol content was found to be 2.73 percent. In most states, the legal limit for driving is a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent.

The child was admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit, and was released two days later.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers recommends keeping cleaning supplies, disinfectants and hand sanitizers up and out of the reach of children, reminding consumers there is "no such thing as a 100 percent childproof lock or container."

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Bleach was the subject of most calls, the report found. In one incident described by the authors, a woman attempted to disinfect her fruits and vegetables by soaking them in a sink filled with a mixture of 10 percent bleach solution, vinegar and hot water.

"While cleaning her other groceries, she noted a noxious smell described as 'chlorine' in her kitchen," the report stated. She began coughing, wheezing and having trouble breathing. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance, and recovered soon after.

The CDC recommends avoiding mixing chemicals, and if using bleach, do so only in a well-ventilated area. If cleaning produce, rinse only with clean water.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, can spread through groceries. Experts do, however, strongly urge people to wash their hands with soap and water after visiting a grocery store.

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