By Terry DeMio for the Cincinnati Enquirer
Be aware: That COVID-19 test kit in your home could contain a toxic substance that may be harmful to your children and you.
The substance is sodium azide, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Drug and Poison Information Center has seen a surge in calls about exposures to the chemical since more people started self-testing for COVID-19 at home.
Fifty million U.S. households have received some version of the test kits, although it’s not clear how many contain sodium azide. The government has sent 200 million of the kits, with about 85% of initial orders filled, officials said at a White House briefing last week.
“We started getting our first exposures to these test kits around early November,” said Sheila Goertemoeller, pharmacist and clinical toxicologist for the center. “It was, really, all ages.” The calls to the local center mirror what’s been happening nationally.
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. Ingesting it can cause low blood pressure, which can result in dizziness, headaches or palpitations. Exposure to it can also cause skin, eye or nostril irritation.
The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital-based Drug and Poison Information Center has logged 38 cases of sodium azide exposure, with cases peaking in January, around the time that the omicron variant triggered a high number of COVID-19 cases, Goertemoeller said. Adults exposed generally have experienced mild skin irritation, which can get worse if the area isn’t washed thoroughly, she said.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Central Ohio Poison Center in Columbus also reported seeing an “uptick” in cases, as well, a spokeswoman said. The center did not immediately have a number of cases.
The Cincinnati Children’s Drug and Poison Information Center covers half of Ohio’s population, covering a swath of calls in Southwest Ohio and those in Northeast Ohio, including Akron. Nationwide Children’s Central Ohio Poison Center handles the other half of the state’s population.
“Mostly, I’ve been very worried about our young children,” Goertemoeller said.
The “good news” is that the cases reported to the Cincinnati Children’s center mostly have been minor and resolved at home, Goertemoeller said. She added that the amount of sodium azide in COVID-19 rapid tests is small.
Large amounts of exposure to sodium azide can cause severe health threats, leading to convulsions, loss of consciousness, lung injury, respiratory failure leading to death, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention notes. The chemical is best known as one found in airbags.
Several poison centers throughout the United States have reported sodium azide exposures from the COVID-19 test kits. Goertemoeller estimated there have been 200-plus reported cases from the 55 poison centers nationwide.
Poison Control’s National Capital Poison Center notes that the poisoning risk is low when these tests are used and disposed of properly.
Goertemoeller provided these safety tips:
- Store the kits in a high cabinet, preferably locked, and out of sight of children.
- For adults, read the directions carefully before using the test kits.
- When done testing, immediately wrap the contents of the kit and dispose of them out of your home.
- Check children’s backpacks for kits, in case your child’s school sent one home, and remove the kit immediately.
- If you suspect someone has been exposed, call the poison center at 800-222-1222.
Additional data from Epoch Times article:
[T]he National Poison Control Center issued a warning about the chemical:
“It is important to know that the extraction vial in many rapid antigen kits includes the chemical sodium azide as a preservative agent,” the center said. “The BinaxNow, BD Veritor, Flowflex, and Celltrion DiaTrust COVID-19 rapid antigen kits all contain this chemical.”
Sodium azide is a colorless, odorless powder that testers dip cotton swabs into. The chemical is found in herbicides, pest control agents, and airbags for cars.
Accidental exposure is occurring among both children and adults, said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, with the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, told WNEP over the weekend.
“People might mistake them for eye drops. Children might drop it onto their skin. Adults will sometimes mistakenly put them into their eyes,” she said.
“You don’t want to leave it on the skin because it could potentially cause an allergic reaction or a skin rash.
“If someone drinks the solution, it’s really important to contact poison control right away. The solutions have different ingredients. Some have non-toxic ingredients and others have more dangerous ingredients.”
My opinion: if you need to keep the test kit locked away from children to prevent poisoning, then it’s NOT safe to shove up your nose.