Staying Safe COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic poison centers have seen a spike in accidental poisonings specifically from hand sanitizers and household cleaning products.

During these difficult times, we want to remind you of some important safety tips. Our healthcare professionals at the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information are available 24 hours a day, and most of the time can walk you through what to do at home, so you don't have to leave your house. Always read and follow the directions on the label, wear safety protection, and keep chemicals in original containers. Remember your poison center never closes, and we are here for you to help with any poisoning or if you have questions, at 1-800-222-1222.

Only obtain COVID-19 information from trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, the World Health Organization (WHO) website, State and local Health Departments, and Poison Centers.

Keeping Kids Safe


Accidental exposures related to hand sanitizers and household cleaning products, including disinfectants and bleach, continue to happen. These are primarily due to these products being used as usual, and then left accessible to children rather than safely placing them out of their reach.

All chemicals, including hand sanitizers, should be stored out of sight and out of reach of children. Make sure you are keeping all chemicals up AND away; never on a counter, cabinet, or on an open shelf. The safest bet is to keep them up high, in a closed cabinet, with a lock for extra security.

Children will most commonly access hand sanitizer by putting their mouths on the pump, or by licking what was pumped out on their hands by parents. Serious toxicity would not be expected in either of these situations, even if it was a methanol- or benzene-containing product.

  • Even alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are made properly and do not contain contaminants can cause serious effects in children if too much is ingested. If swallowed, it can lower blood sugar.
  • In extreme, untreated situations, these products can lead to coma and seizures. That's why the first treatment instruction after a child drinks alcohol, from any source, is to give something sweet to drink.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also make kids intoxicated; more serious problems can include slow heart rate and slow breathing.
  • All hand sanitizers can be irritating to the stomach, causing nausea or vomiting if swallowed.
  • Call the Poison Helpline see if they need medical attention or if it is safe to watch them at home.

Cleaning Products

Some cleaning products can cause chemical burns, so if accidental ingestion occurs never induce vomiting.

Another dangerous behavior we are seeing during the coronavirus pandemic relates to the mixing of cleaning products. We are disinfecting our homes more frequently and as products become scarce, some may resort to mixing products without being aware that the combinations could be dangerous.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Never mix cleaning products or other chemicals.
  • Mixing these products and chemicals can create toxic gases.
  • Exposure to toxic gases like chlorine can lead to significant irritation of the skin and eyes, difficulty breathing, and even death.
  • Do not use professional grade cleaning products in your home.
  • Many cleaning products and chemicals can be irritating and have a strong odor, so open windows and doors to ventilate properly while cleaning.
  • Do not use disinfectants on people, only use on surfaces listed on the label. They are not designed to be effective on skin and can increase health risks if used that way. Always follow the label for how and where to use disinfectants. Wash your hands after every use.
  • If you feel sick while cleaning, stop immediately, head to fresh air and call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Over the Counter Medicine, including Vitamins and Supplements

Trying to boost your immunity? Do not overdo it on vitamins and supplements. Taking too much can be harmful and can lead to side effects.

Excess doses of vitamin C can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It also interacts negatively with some antibiotics.

Taking too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If taken for too long, zinc can also interfere with iron absorption leading to an iron deficiency anemia.

Just like any over-the-counter medication, always consult your healthcare provider first before taking new vitamins or supplements. If you or your child is sick with body aches and fever, be aware that it is possible to overdose on several OTC pain relievers including acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Read the dosing instructions carefully and never exceed the recommended dose. If you accidentally take too much of these medications contact the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 to see if medical care will be needed.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers usually contain alcohols that have been FDA approved for topical use. Such products usually contain ethanol (ethyl alcohol), isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), or benzalkonium chloride (a detergent). Most of the time, the risk of hand sanitizer exposure is not considered more dangerous than exposure to other sources of alcohol in a child's environment.

Recently, potentially dangerous contaminants have been discovered in some hand sanitizers. In June 2020, the FDA announced that some popular hand sanitizers are contaminated with methanol (methyl alcohol). Methanol has a much narrower range of safety compared to ethanol and isopropanol. Too much methanol can cause permanent blindness and death secondary to severe changes in body chemistry.

In March 2021, a contaminant called benzene was detected in several hand sanitizer brands across multiple production batches. Benzene is a chemical known to cause leukemia. Methanol or benzene will not be listed on the label. It is best to throw away these recalled products to make sure no one accidentally uses them or ingests them.

Check here to make sure it is not one of the contaminated or recalled brands.


There seems to be a growing interest in a drug called ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans. Ivermectin is often used in the U.S. to treat or prevent parasites in animals, and is also used to treat several conditions in humans.
The FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans. Ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea. Ivermectin is not an anti-viral (a drug for treating viruses). The FDA has not reviewed data to support use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients to treat or to prevent COVID-19, however, initial research is underway.

Taking a drug for an unapproved use can be very dangerous.

  • Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm. If you have a prescription for ivermectin, get it from a legitimate source such as your pharmacist and take it exactly as prescribed.
  • There's a lot of misinformation around; you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin. If your physician prescribes ivermectin, stick to taking the medication as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Even the doses of ivermectin for approved uses in humans can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. Discuss potential interactions with your doctor or pharmacist
  • You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.