COVID-19 Test Warning: Swallowing Toxic Test Chemicals Could Be Lethal

The Poison Control's National Capital Poison Center is warning consumers about a toxic chemical that is found in some at-home COVID tests that could be toxic if swallowed.

The chemical — sodium azide — is causing a rise in calls to poison control centers across the U.S. as more people undergo COVID testing at home, according to USA Today.

Sodium azide, found in some COVID-19 tests is used as a preservative, USA Today reported. The National Capital Poison Center said on its website that it is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless powder that is often used in car airbags and as herbicide and pest control agent.

“Sodium azide is a very potent poison, and ingestion of relatively low doses can cause significant toxicity. 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 Capital Poison Center said.

“However, the extraction vials do look like small squeeze bottles or eye droppers. Some people may accidentally confuse them with medications and apply the drops into their eyes or nose, which may cause irritation. People also may spill it on their skin which can cause skin irritation or chemical burns. Small children may accidentally swallow the contents of the vial or choke on the vial’s small cap.”

The Upstate New York Poison Center and West Texas Poison Center have also warned of the potential dangers of swallowing the hazardous chemical, which can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, or palpitations, according to National Capital Poison Center.

Exposure to the chemical can lead to skin, eye or nostril irritation, while large amounts of exposure can also lead to convulsions, loss of consciousness, lung injury, and respiratory failure that can all result in death, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In extreme cases, sodium azide poisoning can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and death, the poison center said.

USA Today reported that some 50 million U.S. households have received at-home COVID test kits from the federal government, but it is not clear home many of these tests contain sodium azide.

Sheila Goertemoeller, pharmacist and clinical toxicologist for the National Capital Poison Center told the publication that she estimates that there have been more than 200 reported cases from 55 poison centers nationwide from sodium azide exposure in COVID tests with cases starting around early November.

The National Capital Poison Center suggests that if someone has swallowed sodium azide, do not make them vomit. If they have eye exposure to the chemical, rinse their eyes for 15 to 20 minutes with warm tap water. Skin should also be rinsed with tap water.

Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or immediately check the Poison Control website for guidance if you suspect sodium azide exposure or poisoning. Its services are available 24/7.

Call 911 if someone has swallowed part of a rapid antigen test and is choking, the poison center said

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