CINCINNATI – Please note: The COVID-19 test kit in your home may contain a toxic substance which can be harmful to your children and you.
The drug is sodium azide, and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s drug and poison information center have seen an increase in calls for exposure to the chemical since more people began testing themselves for COVID-19 at home.
Fifty million American households have received a version of the test kits, although it is not clear how many contain sodium azide. The government has sent 200 million of the sets, with about 85% of the first orders filled, officials said at a White House briefing last week.
“We started getting our first exposures to these test kits around the beginning of November,” said Sheila Goertemoeller, pharmacist and clinical toxicologist for the center. “It was, in fact, all ages.” The calls to the local center reflect what has happened nationwide. That Upstate New York Poison Center and West Texas Poison Center have warned of similar issues.
Latest COVID updates: Members of Congress may attend the State of the Union without masks
What is sodium azide?
Sodium azide, often used as a preservative, is a liquid reagent in several of the COVID-19 test kits, she said. Poison controlNational Capital Poison Center said the chemical is colorless, tasteless and odorless and is mainly used in bilairbags and as a pesticide.
Ingestion may cause low blood pressure, which may result in dizziness, headache or palpitations. Exposure to it can also cause skin, eye or nostril irritation. Large amounts of sodium azide exposure can cause serious health threatsleading to seizures, loss of consciousness, lung damage, respiratory failure leading to death, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Sodium azide is a very potent toxin, and ingestion of relatively low doses can cause significant toxicity,” Poison Control said. “The extraction vials look like small squeeze bottles or eye drops. Some people may accidentally confuse them with medication and apply the drops in their eyes or nose, which can cause irritation. People can also spill it on their skin, which can cause skin irritation or chemical burns. Small children may accidentally swallow the contents of the vial or suffocate on the vial’s small cap. “
Several poison centers throughout the United States have reported exposure to sodium azide from the COVID-19 test kits. Goertemoeller estimates that there have been more than 200 reported cases from the 55 poison centers nationwide.
The Cincinnati Children’s Drug and Poison Information Center has recorded 38 cases of sodium azide exposure, with cases peaking in January, around the time the omicron variant triggered a high number of COVID-19 cases, Goertemoeller said. Vulnerable adults have generally experienced mild skin irritation, which can get worse if the area is not washed thoroughly, she said.
The Nationwide Children’s Central Ohio Poison Center in Columbus also reported seeing an “uptick” in cases, a spokeswoman said. The center did not immediately have a number of cases.
“For the most part, I have been very concerned about our young children,” Goertemoeller said.
The “good news” is that the cases reported to the Cincinnati Children’s Center have mostly been minor and resolved at home, Goertemoeller said. She added that the amount of sodium azide in COVID-19 rapid tests is small.
Poison Control notes that the risk of poisoning is low when these tests are used and disposed of properly.
Goertemoeller has provided these safety tips:
- Store the sets in a high cabinet, preferably locked, and out of sight of children.
- For adults, read the instructions carefully before using the test kits.
- When you have finished testing, immediately wrap the contents of the kit and dispose of it from your home.
- Check the children’s backpacks for sets if your child’s school has sent one home, and remove the set immediately.
- If you suspect someone has been exposed, call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222.
Starring: Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY