April 27, 2020 - Calls to poison control centers have risen sharply from January to March compared to the same time period during the previous 2 years. The CDC believes the spike has happened because people are cleaning and disinfecting more during the coronavirus pandemic.

The increase in calls was especially sharp during March, with the largest percentage of calls concerning children under 5, according to the CDC.

Using information from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), the CDC said poison control centers received 45,550 calls for cleaners and disinfectants during January-March of this year, with 28,158 calls relating to cleaners and 17,392 to disinfectants.

That represented an increase of 20.4% more calls than January-March 2019 and 16.4% more than January-March 2018.

The NPDS didn’t present evidence linking the rise in calls to increased cleaning because of the pandemic, but the CDC said “there appears to be a clear temporal association.”

“The timing of these reported exposures corresponded to increased media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of consumer shortages of cleaning and disinfection products, and the beginning of some local and state stay-at-home orders,” the CDC said.

The CDC provided two vignettes to show what kinds of calls the poison centers have been receiving.

In one, a woman soaked her newly purchased produce in a sink filled with 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water because she heard a news report saying newly purchased groceries should be cleaned. She had trouble breathing, went to a hospital, and was discharged after a few hours.

In the second vignette, a preschool-aged child was found unresponsive with an open bottle of ethanol-based hand sanitizer on the kitchen table. The family said the child ingested the sanitizer, became dizzy, fell, and hit her head. She vomited on the way to the hospital, was admitted for 48 hours, and was discharged.

The most recent NPDS bulletin showed findings with similar incidents.

It reported 14,756 calls with questions about bleach to poison control centers from January to April 19 of this year, compared to 9,823 calls for the same time period the previous year -- a 50% increase. The NPDS said centers received 9,012 calls regarding hand sanitizers for that time period in 2020, compared to 6,786 for 2019 -- a 33% increase.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers will hold a question-and-answer program about disinfectant safety on its Facebook page at 2 p.m. ET April 30.