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Virginia seeing 'substantial increase' in accidental exposures to disinfectants

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 17:24:44-04

Accidental poisonings are up across the country as more people use cleaning products and sanitizers.

The CDC is reporting a 20 percent increase compared to last year.

In Virginia specifically, the poison center has also seen a big increase in calls.

According to the director, Dr. Ruddy Rose, Virginia has seen a 29 percent increase in exposures to disinfectants and a 45 percent increase in exposures to bleach.

That’s from January through March of this year compared to last year.

“Overall it’s a substantial increase over what the same period was in 2019,” said Dr. Rose.

The first few weeks of April are about the same - a 25 - 30 percent increase in exposures.

Some of the cases involve young children, but there are also a number of adults either overusing or misusing products.

"Adults are using [cleaning products] more frequently and maybe mixing things they shouldn’t be mixing. A great example is mixing bleach with either an acid or ammonia, and they can produce pretty toxic gases, and if you’ve got some type of lung disease then that can be a significant exposure for you," said Dr. Rose.

As for kids, there are two things you need to be mindful of to keep them from accidentally getting into cleaning products: where you're storing them and what you're doing with them while they're being used.

“If you’re in the middle of a project or cleaning and get distracted, perhaps by the telephone or doorbell, then that gives an opportunity for an unsupervised child to get a hold of these products,” said Dr. Rose

You should also be extra careful with hand sanitizer.

Most are at least 60 percent ethanol which is 120 proof, so it wouldn’t take much for a child to get ethanol poisoning.

Another concern Dr. Rose has is sanitizer being sold by distilleries. Some are being sold in bottles that look like beverages, so he says you need to be extra careful when storing it so it doesn't get mixed up with other containers.

If you ever need help, you can call the Virginia Poison Center at 1 (800) 222-1222 any time of day for free.

Dr. Rose says it's important to call that number early because in most cases, especially with kids, poison specialists will be able to help you avoid a call to 911 if it's not necessary.

"The poison specialists will ask you questions about the exposure. How much? How did it happen? And not in a judgmental way, by the way, because this happens all the time. When did it happen? Is the child having any symptoms? Was the child healthy before this happened? And [they] can typically give you advice and things to watch for and we can safely leave that child at home, so that would prevent you from having to call 911 or getting an ambulance or doing an emergency department visit which is very traumatic and very expensive," said Dr. Rose.

For more information about the Virginia Poison Center, click here.