If You Notice This After Taking a COVID Test, Call Poison Control
There is a toxic substance in some at-home kits that could be harmful.
The threat of COVID has dropped significantly in the last month, but that doesn't mean people all across the U.S. aren't still getting infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 75,000 new coronavirus cases in the country just this past week. The USPS continues to send out free at-home COVID tests to help people assess their own exposures and symptoms, with 200 million kits sent out as of mid-February. But when it comes to testing yourself, there is a new health concern officials are warning about. Read on to find out what you should be watching out for after taking an at-home COVID test.
Some COVID tests contain a toxic substance that could be harmful.
Poison centers around the U.S. have been warning about a potentially dangerous chemical found in some at-home COVID tests, USA Today reported. According to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centers' Drug and Poison Information Center, the toxic substance is sodium azide. This chemical is colorless, tasteless, and odorless, and it is frequently used in car airbags and as a pest control agent, per the Poison Control's National Capital Poison Center.
In a Feb. 2022 blog post, the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center said that in some testing kits, sodium azide is used as a preservative in the reagent liquid, which triggers the chemical reaction that detects the presence of COVID. It is not clear how any tests contain sodium azide, but according to the National Poison Center, "the BinaxNow, BD Veritor, Flowflex, and Celltrion DiaTrust COVID-19 rapid antigen kits all contain this chemical."
Swallowing this chemical could cause health complications.
Sodium azide is a "very potent poison and ingestion of relatively low doses can cause significant toxicity," per the National Poison Center. According to the center, surface exposure to this chemical can cause skin irritation, irritation to the eyes or nose, or chemical burns. Swallowing this substance can result in low blood pressure, dizziness, headache, and heart palpitations.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call Poison Control. "If you suspect someone has swallowed sodium azide, do not make the person vomit. For eye exposures, rinse the eyes for 15 to 20 minutes with warm tap water," the National Poison Center said.
Swallowing sodium azide can also turn more severe, potentially resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death. But there is some good news: Poison Control officials don't believe that the kits contain enough of this substance to cause such severe complications for most people. "Fortunately, the amount of sodium azide in most rapid antigen kits is much lower than the amount expected to cause poisoning if swallowed by an adult," the National Poison Center said.
Poison centers say reports of exposure are increasing.
The Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center said that it has seen a surge in calls about accidental exposures to sodium azide since more people started testing for COVID in their own homes. "We started getting our first exposures to these test kits around early November. It was, really, all ages," Sheila Goertemoeller, a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist for the center, told USA Today.
According to the newspaper, this is a national issue. Both the Upstate New York Poison Center and West Texas Poison Center have recently warned about similar problems with the chemical. According to Goertemoeller, it is estimated that there have been more than 200 reported cases from the 55 poison centers nationwide.
There are things you can do to lower the risk of exposure to the chemical.
Goertemoeller said her biggest concern was about young children being exposed to the chemical, as lower amounts can affect them more. But exposures have not been limited to kids. "The most common calls to poison centers have been about children exploring their environment and finding the small bottle containing reagent liquid and putting it in their mouth or spilling it on themselves," the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center explained. "In adults there have been cases of 'container confusion,' with the bottle being mistaken for eye drops."
Fortunately, there are some ways you can lower the risk of exposure to sodium azide in your own home. According to Goertemoeller, you should store kits in high cabinets that are preferably locked so they are out of sight of children. When children come home from school, you should also check their backpacks immediately as kits might have been sent home by schools and remove any if so.
"For adults, read the directions carefully before using the test kits," she said. "When done testing, immediately wrap the contents of the kit and dispose of them out of your home."