Ohio hospital reports rise in calls about exposure to chemical in some at-home COVID-19 tests

The drug and poison information center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has recently seen a surge in calls about exposures to sodium azide  — a chemical found in some at-home COVID-19 test kits, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Feb. 21. 

"We started getting our first exposures to these test kits around early November," said Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, clinical toxicologist at the hospital's poison information center. "It was, really, all ages," she told the news outlet. 

Since November, Cincinnati Children's Drug and Poison Information center, which covers half of Ohio's population, has logged 38 cases of exposure to sodium azide. Exposure calls peaked in January, coinciding with omicron's peak as many people tested at home, Dr. Goertemoeller said. The call center at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus covers the other half of the state. It also reported an "uptick" in exposure cases to the chemical, though it did not have an exact number. 

Small amounts of sodium azide are used as a liquid reagent in a number of at-home COVID-19 test kits. If ingested, it can cause low blood pressure, leading to dizziness, headaches or palpitations. It may also irritate the skin, eyes or nostrils. Exposure to large amounts present more serious health threats, including convulsions, lung injury and respiratory failure, according to the CDC

Calls to Cincinnati Children's regarding exposure to the substance have involved minor cases that have mostly been resolved at home, Dr. Goertemoeller said. 

Across the country's 55 poison centers, Dr. Goertemoelloer estimates there have been at least 200 reports of exposure to the substance from test kits. She emphasized that when used properly and stored away from children, poisoning risk is low. 


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