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Washington Poison Center sees uptick in calls after stay home order

More time at home and more time around cleaning products has increased exposure calls nationally and in Washington.

SEATTLE, Wash — By staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the goal is to stay healthy, but with that comes more time spent around cleaning supplies and chemicals.

New numbers from the CDC show that from January to March, U.S. poison centers got 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants -- that's an increase of more than 20%.

"We definitely had concerns that this would happen," said Meghan King, public health education and communication specialist for Washington Poison Center. 

She says what they're seeing here in the state mirrors the national trend. 

"We are seeing an increase in calls about household cleaning products, so things like bleach and soaps and detergents, but also calls about hand sanitizer," King said.

Calls to the poison center regarding household cleaners have increased 23%. Calls about hand sanitizer have increased 83%.

King credits this to disrupted routines and more distractions at home during the stay at home order. 

"Parents might have kids at home, so they're more distracted than they normally would be, so it's really easy when you're distracted to leave something unattended and not realize there could be a poison risk."

Calls range from children ingesting hand sanitzer to using bleach instead of soap or using bleach to clean food.

Some attempts to sanitize PPE like masks have also ended with a call into the poison center.

"They might be trying to clean their mask with bleach or hydrogen peroxide and when they put those masks back on, they're inhaling toxic fumes," said King. 

There's also more calls about medications -- either getting in the wrong hands, or accidental overdoses.

"There's so much stress and distractions, if could be really easy to mess up taking medications correctly."

So how can we keep our homes safer as we do our best to disinfect? King says one important way is to keep cleaning supplies and medications out of reach of any children. 

Also -- read directions and don't mix cleaners, like bleach and ammonia or bleach and vinegar. Mixing products that have reactive ingredients can create toxic gas. 

"Usually, you won't have folks mixing straight bleach and straight ammonia, usually it would be a product with bleach in it and mixing it with a drain cleaner or some other sort of cleaning substance."

Another tip -- if you're unsure about the use of any cleaning product or worry about you or a family member being exposed, call WAPC at 800-222-1222. 

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