SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Upstate New York Poison Center has seen an increase in calls in 2020 for things like cleaning products and hand sanitizer.

While many calls came directly to the poison center, they were also directed there from the COVID-19 hotline set up last year by SUNY Upstate Medical, which also runs the poison center.

The poison center saw an increase in cases associated with cleaning products, cosmetics, and personal care products (most notably hand sanitizers), plants, vitamins, and alcohol.

They say the correlation between the types of calls the 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.

“We’ve always seen cleaning products in that top 10 list of children accidentally taking swallows, but these were adults calling,” Upstate New York Poison Center, Administrative Director Michele Caliva.

She says often times these adults were being a bit over aggressive with cleaning products.

“Spraying food substances or packaging, or you know, being in small spaces and using multiple cleaning products to wipe down a bathroom because they were so concerned about the spread of germs. So, that was what was startling in different,” she tells NewsChannel 9.

The poison center has not only been seeing an increase in cases the past year associated with cleaning products but also hand sanitizer.

Caliva says, “In children taking a swallow of an alcohol-based product doesn’t make them silly, it doesn’t make them drugged, it drops your blood sugar level and it can be very, very dangerous.”

She also tells NewsChannel 9 people may unknowingly be contaminating their groceries.

“I just had a lady the other day call and she said oh, I’m so tired of washing my groceries when the Instacart person, you know, drop some off. I had to back up and explain to her that she didn’t want to do that. She didn’t want to spray Clorox all of the food and then put it in the refrigerator and then eat from that product. Or you know wet the outside of a cardboard box. She had no idea. She thought that was still the recommendation,” Caliva tells NewsChannel 9.

The poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year and every call is free.

“You’re talking to somebody who is a nurse or pharmacist, specially trained in toxicology. Don’t take the time to look something up. Take the time to pick up the phone and talk to us because we can give it, too, short and quick. We like to keep people out of the emergency room, out of unnecessary hospital visits,” Caliva says.

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.

The poison center takes calls from 54 of the 62 counties in New York State, all but the counties closest to New York City.

Top 5 poisonings in 2020 for all age groups:

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

Top 5 poisonings in 2020 for children 5 or younger:

  • Personal care products (most exposure/information calls for: hand sanitizers)
  • Household cleaning products (most exposure/information calls for: bleach, laundry pods)
  • Foreign objects (most exposure/information calls for: toys, silica gel, glow sticks)
  • Analgesics (most exposure/information calls for: children’s liquid acetaminophen)
  • 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