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Upstate New York Poison Center sees increase in hand sanitizer, bleach calls due to COVID-19

Photo of hand sanitizer in hand.

FOR RELEASE: Feb. 1, 2021

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The need for the Upstate New York Poison Center was greater than ever in 2020. Our poison center staff answered the largest number of calls in March, when on average, our poison center sees our highest call volume in the summer. While direct calls to the poison center remained on par with previous years, overall, our data shows call volume was up 38% because of our association with the new Upstate COVID-19 Hotline that opened in March 2020. While hotline calls do not directly come into our center, our poison center staff tracks and collects all call data and submits to the CDC.

Our poison center saw an increase in cases associated with cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products (most notably hand sanitizers), plants, vitamins, and alcohol. The correlation between the types of calls our poison center saw this year compared to last year, shows a direct relationship to the large numbers of people staying home, exploring the outdoors more, and trying different remedies to combat COVID-19.

“2020 was a challenging year for us all. Our poison center staff was prepared to answer the influx of calls as soon as we saw COVID-19 taking hold of our country,” says administrative director, Michele Caliva, “Several members of our staff, including myself, helped set-up the first COVID hotline at Upstate and our poison center data system records all of that data.”

While calls seeking information on COVID-19 were funneled to the hotline, our poison center handled and continues to handle poison exposures related to the virus, including bleach exposures, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and purported at-home or hospital remedies.

Of our nearly 52,000 cases in 2020 (excluding hotline calls related to COVID-19), 29% were related to kids under five and 86% of those were managed at home, meaning a person exposed to a poison did not have to rush to a hospital. A majority of cases managed by the poison center came from Onondaga, Erie, Monroe, Albany and Orange counties.

Top 5 poisonings in 2020 for all age groups:

  1. Analgesics (most exposure/information calls for: adult strength acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  2. Household cleaning products (most exposure/information calls for: bleach)
  3. Cosmetics/personal care products (most exposure/information calls for: hand sanitizers)
  4. Antidepressants
  5. Sedative/Hypnotics/Antipsychotics (most exposure/information calls for: benzodiazepines)

Top 5 poisonings in 2020 for children 5 or younger:

  1. Personal care products (most exposure/information calls for: hand sanitizers)
  2. Household cleaning products (most exposure/information calls for: bleach, laundry pods)
  3. Foreign objects (most exposure/information calls for: toys, silica gel, glow sticks)
  4. Analgesics (most exposure/information calls for: children’s liquid acetaminophen)
  5. Dietary supplements (most exposure/information calls for: melatonin)

 Poison Prevention Tips:

  • Keep medicines and household products locked up, where children cannot see or reach them
  • Store poisons in their original containers
  • Use child-resistant packaging, but remember nothing is child-proof
  • Read the label and follow the directions on medicines and products
  • Take your medicines where children can’t watch
  • Teach child to ask an adult before eating or drinking anything

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.