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The Review

Health Canada is warning Canadians about the risks of poisoning

Posted On: Monday, May 11, 2020

Protect yourself and your family from poisonings: always read and follow the label directions when using hand sanitizers, disinfectants, household cleaning products and bleaches

Health Canada is warning Canadians about the risks of poisoning

OTTAWA – Health Canada is warning Canadians about the risks of improperly using hand sanitizers, disinfectants, household cleaning products and bleaches, and reminding them to always read and follow the directions on product labels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increased demand for, and use of, these products. However, there have been several reports of unintentional poisonings from their improper use.

Between February and March of this year, poison centres across Canada received 58% more cases of people being poisoned by, or exposed to, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, household cleaning products and bleaches, compared with the same period last year.

Hand sanitizers

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When that is not an option, Health Canada recommends using an authorized hand sanitizer that has an alcohol concentration of at least 60%. Product labels for authorized hand sanitizers will display either a Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number (DIN). Health Canada has published a list of authorized hand sanitizers, which is updated daily, Monday to Friday. 

As with all health products, always read and follow the directions on the product label. Never eat or drink hand sanitizers and always keep them out of the reach of children. Always supervise young children when using hand sanitizers, because ingesting even small amounts can be dangerous or fatal.

Hard-surface disinfectants

Hard-surface disinfectants are liquids, sprays and wipes that are designed to be used on hard surfaces to kill germs (e.g. such as bacteria and viruses). These products can play an important role in reducing the spread of COVID-19. They always include clear directions for use, including information about how long the surface should be visibly wet to be disinfected. This information is in the directions for use on the product label.

Precautionary statements are clearly and prominently displayed on the package label to ensure that Canadians have the information they need to use these products safely. When using a hard-surface disinfectant, only use the recommended amount and ensure that you have good ventilation. Product labels for authorized hard-surface disinfectants will display a DIN.

Since disinfectants can irritate the eyes and skin, always wash your hands thoroughly after using them. Never drink or inject any disinfectant products and always keep them out of the reach of children. Labels list appropriate first aid instructions, and whether protective equipment should be worn during their use (e.g., rubber gloves).

Household cleaning products and bleach

Household cleaning products remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces by using soap (or detergent) and water. Cleaning does not necessarily kill germs but it removes them, which lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Household bleach (chlorine bleach) can be used to kill bacteria, fungi or viruses, but can irritate or burn your skin, eyes or lungs if not handled safely. Bleach products should never be mixed with other cleaning products, especially glass cleaners, and products containing ammonia or acids, such as vinegar. Mixing bleach and ammonia or other chemicals can produce toxic gases.

Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows or doors and running exhaust fans, during and after using these products. Use goggles and rubber gloves to protect your eyes and skin when using bleach. Like all household chemical products, keep bleach out of the sight and reach of children.

When preparing a diluted bleach solution, only make as much as you need at one time. Do not store any leftover solution in a container for future use, as it may be mistakenly used for another purpose and this could lead to dangerous incidents. Never clean yourself or your child with bleach or diluted bleach. Never eat or drink household cleaning products or bleach.

What you should do

  • Always read and follow the directions on product labels.
  • Limit the spread of COVID-19 by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If this is not possible, use a hand sanitizer, with at least 60% alcohol, that has been authorized by Health Canada.
  • Check whether a product and its claims have been authorized for sale by Health Canada.
  • If you or someone else has been in contact with any of these household products and you think there is a risk of harm:
    • Call a Poison Centre or your health care provider right away.
    • Have the product label handy to provide its information to the person who answers the phone.
    • Bring the original product container with you when you go for help.
    • Report the incident to Health Canada.

Find more information on Health Canada's website about safely buying, using, storing and disposing of health products and household chemical products.

For the latest and most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit Canada.ca/coronavirus.

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