A bottle of hand sanitizer is seen in Vancouver on October 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

U of A researchers warn of accidental poisonings from cleaning products during COVID-19

As Albertans try and battle COVID-19, another unintended consequence of the virus has emerged.

University of Alberta researchers are sounding the alarm over increased calls about poisonings from cleaning products and hand sanitizer in 2020.

They said calls to Alberta’s Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) related to these products have increased by 73 per cent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathy Belton, associate director of the Injury Prevention Centre, which is run by the School of Public Health, said that is concerning for a number of reasons.

“While these products are essential for cleaning and preventing the spread of the virus, when they are used incorrectly, they can cause unintentional poisoning and serious injuries,” Belton said.

“When they are left in common areas and within the reach of children, kids can accidentally ingest them or get some in their eyes.”

Calls about hand sanitizer went up by about 200 per cent over the 2019 numbers, an eightfold in calls about teens between 13 and 19 and five times more for seniors over 60.

Belton believes part of the confusion comes from increased availability. Mark Yarema, medical director of PADIS, added there is also the possibility that teens may be experimenting with drinking hand sanitizer to get a high.

“Hand sanitizer, in particular, has been packaged in beer cans and wine bottles,” Belton said. “If you think about it, if there’s a beer can with hand sanitizer in it, an unsuspecting inebriated person could mistake it for a real beer.”

According to research released by the Injury Prevention Centre last year, nearly 4,500 Canadians die from unintended poisonings each year.

“The public sees child-resistant lids and other manufacturing solutions for products and they think that the poisoning issue has been solved,” Belton said. “But it really hasn’t. These are toxic chemicals and they should be treated with respect.”

Some tips to keep kids safe are being highlighted during Poison Prevention Week, from March 21-27:

● Supervise children under the age of 12 when they’re using hand sanitizer to ensure they

aren’t using too much or putting their hands in their mouth after they use it.

● Read labels and follow use instructions.

● Store all hand sanitizers and cleaning products out of sight and out of reach of children.

● Keep products in their original containers with their labels.

● Wear rubber gloves when cleaning.

● Don’t mix cleaning products; this can produce toxic fumes.

● Save the Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) emergency number,

1-800-332-1414, in your cellphone contacts.

● Learn more about the Poison Prevention… It’s in Your Hands campaign on the Injury

Prevention Centre website during National Poison Prevention Week, March 21-27.