LUBBOCK, Texas — The Texas Poison Center Network has seen a spike in calls since the start of the pandemic related to people ingesting bleach and other disinfectant products.
“Have all seen an increase in calls to any disinfectant product. Bleaches, alcohols and also hand sanitizers,” said Managing Director of the Texas Panhandle Poison Center, Jeanie Jaramillo-Srametz.
Jaramillo-Srametz says they believe this increase comes because more and more people are disinfecting everything from their hands to countertops to prevent COVID-19.
In comparison to 2019, this year, exposures to hand sanitizer have gone up over 80 percent in August, and bleach exposures are up by 13 percent.
“With COVID, we have all these cleaning supplies everywhere everyone is hyper-vigilant about hand sanitizer. Things we don’t typically have lying around or on the counter are there now,” said Medical Director of the UMC Emergency Center, Dr. Christopher Piel. “The same with Clorox. Everyone is trying to keep everything clean, and it stands to reason. I guess that intuitively they would think, ‘Hey this is good to clean the counter, maybe I should drink some too’, which is not true.”
And while emergency room doctors occasionally see patients who have intentionally ingested bleach or hand sanitizer, they say most of the time it is accidental.
“We’ve seen a lot of the children being affected. They are colorful colors on the labels, so they think it’s some kind of juice to drink,” said Covenant Medical Center ER Physician, Dr. Juan Fitz.
But because the alcohol content in most hand sanitizers is around 65 percent, ingesting it can be particularly harmful to children.
“Clorox in small quantities is not overly dangerous, but it is irritating and certainly not good to drink. That’s a bad thing to do, but hand sanitizer is much worse,” said Piel.
With places like distilleries making hand sanitizer, it is important to make sure the products you buy are correctly labeled to prevent anyone from accidentally ingesting them.
“The hand sanitizer market exploded there was so much demand that everyone started making hand sanitizer, and we started seeing products that were packaged similar to water bottles,” said Jaramillo-Srametz.
And while many people are just using products to try to prevent COVID-19.
“They are trying to follow and keep clean, but they are using the products in the wrong way. You know, a neighbor said this, or a neighbor said that, or they read on the internet, so that’s what’s going on. So, there are more instances that we are seeing of that are people basically using the wrong products,” said Fitz.
Doctors say ingesting a cleaning product includes everything from drinking it to using it to clean your fruits and vegetables, both of which doctors say is a bad idea.
“Don’t ever ingest a cleaning product. They can get very toxic very quickly if they are used in the wrong manner,” said Jaramillo-Srametz
Doctors say that if someone thinks their child has ingested any disinfecting product it is a good idea to have a doctor check them out. Poison control also reminds parents to prevent accidental ingestions, make sure to keep hand sanitizer and cleaning products locked up or out of reach, and make sure the bottles are labeled.