Original Research

A retrospective review of calls to the Poisons Information Helpline of the Western Cape during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa

Catharina E. du Plessis, Farah Mohamed, Cindy R. Stephen, Helmuth Reuter, Gonwayne Voigt, Daniel J. van Hoving, Carine J. Marks
Southern African Journal of Infectious Diseases | Vol 37, No 1 | a391 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajid.v37i1.391 | © 2022 Catharina E. du Plessis, Farah Mohamed, Cindy R. Stephen, Helmuth Reuter, Gonwayne Voigt, Daniel J. van Hoving, Carine J. Marks | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 December 2021 | Published: 30 March 2022

About the author(s)

Catharina E. du Plessis, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Farah Mohamed, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Cindy R. Stephen, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Helmuth Reuter, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Gonwayne Voigt, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Daniel J. van Hoving, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Carine J. Marks, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, poison centres worldwide have reported an increase in exposures to chemicals used for infection prevention. Increased availability and use could lead to an increase in exposures. Potential effects on a South African Poison Information Helpline were unknown, therefore a study was performed to describe changes in call volume and profile of poison exposures.

Methods: A retrospective analysis was conducted on an observational database of telephone enquiries. All human-related poisoning exposure call data collected from 01 March to 31 August during 2018, 2019 and 2020 were extracted and analysed. Summary statistics were used to describe all variables.

Results: The total number of calls were 5137, 5508, and 5181 in 2018, 2019, 2020, respectively. The monthly call number during 2020 was mostly less than in 2019. More calls were received from the public calls (39.4% vs 33.1%) and for accidental exposures (65.6% vs 62.3%) increased during 2020 compared to 2019. Exposures to pharmaceuticals decreased by 14.8% from 2019 to 2020, while exposures to eucalyptus oil more than doubled from 21 in 2019 to 43 during 2020. Exposures to antiseptics and disinfectants increased by 60.4%, mainly due to hand sanitisers exposure which showed a 26-fold increase from 2019 (n = 6) to 2020 (n = 156).

Conclusion: A change in the profile of poison exposures was observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown regulations and greater availability of antiseptics and disinfectants probably led to the increase in exposures. Although symptoms were mostly mild, the public should be educated on safe storage and proper use of all chemicals.


Keywords

COVID-19; poison helpline; poison exposures; pharmaceuticals; antiseptics and disinfectants

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