Wildfires have been very prevalent in the news recently with the historic wildfires in California this summer. While Virginia has a much lower risk of wildfires than states on the west coast, the Virginia Department of Forestry manages over 700 wildfires a year, mostly occurring in spring and fall. As the weather cools and the leaves start to fall, the risk of wildfire will increase. Most wildfires in Virginia are started by intentional fires that get out of control, so be cautious when burning leaves and brush or setting a campfire, and follow local burn regulations.
If you live in a wooded area, you should make a plan in case a wildfire happens nearby. You can take steps now to reduce the risk of your home being damaged, and planning ahead will help you be ready to leave quickly if your home is threatened. Plan with your family members how to keep together or contact each other if you have to evacuate and are separated. If a wildfire is burning near your home, follow the directions of local authorities if an evacuation is ordered.
While people’s homes are only rarely at risk to wildfire in Virginia, a wildfire can affect many more people due to air pollution from smoke. Smoke exposure puts people at risk for respiratory problems and has even been associated with a higher risk of heart attack. The CDC has information on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke. The EPA has a short video showing how to make a clean room indoors by recirculating and filtering indoor air to remove smoke particles, providing clean air for the household.
There has been a lot of interest recently in ivermectin as a potential drug for treatment of COVID-19. This is based upon a study showing that when tested on cells grown on culture plates, ivermectin interferes with the replication of the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is no evidence at this time that ivermectin actually has an effect on COVID-19 when given to people. Many drugs behave differently when given to people than when tested against a layer of cells in a dish, because the body is a much more complicated system.
Ivermectin is approved for use in humans to treat several types of parasites, but is not approved for use against COVID-19. It is also used in veterinary practice. The FDA warns that people should not take ivermectin formulated for animals in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19. Formulations designed for animals can be more concentrated or contain other ingredients that are not intended for use by humans, and can cause overdose or dangerous side effects. The most effective thing you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. For those who have been uncertain about getting vaccinated because the vaccines were under an emergency use authorization, the FDA recently approved the Pfizer vaccine, Comirnaty.
On July 1, Virginia’s marijuana laws are changing to allow adults 21 years and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and to grow in their homes up to four plants per household. Visit cannabis.virginia.gov for details on the requirements for legal possession of marijuana.
Marijuana is a drug, and is dangerous for children to consume. Store marijuana, including whole plants, out of reach of children. Be especially careful with edibles such as candies and baked goods. These are attractive to children and they could easily eat a very high dose.
If a child consumes marijuana, or if you are concerned about an adult’s reaction after consuming marijuana, contact the National Poison Centers’ hotline at (800) 222-1222.
This week, March 18-24, is National Poison Prevention Week. This is a week set aside every year for poisoning awareness. Most poisonings happen in the home, through exposure to substances such as carbon monoxide, medications, or household cleaners. You can make your home more safe by installing a carbon monoxide detector, securing medications and safely disposing of medications you no longer need, storing household cleaners safely, and choosing less hazardous cleaners.
If someone in your home may have been poisoned, such as by taking too much medicine or being exposed to a household cleaner, the National Poison Centers can help. If a person is unconscious or not breathing, call 911. If they are not in immediate danger, call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) to be connected with a local Poison Control Center. A poison expert will answer your questions and help you determine if medical help is necessary.
Visit Poison Help for more information.
This coming week is National Poison Prevention week, a week dedicated to raising awareness to poison control centers and the Poison Help Hotline (1-800-222-1222). The American Association of Poison Control Centers has events scheduled throughout the week to help you and your children learn about how to prevent accidental poisonings.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is generated by radioactive decay of uranium in rocks underground. Radon rises from the ground and can become trapped in homes, especially in basements and ground level rooms. People who breath high concentrations of radon over a long period of time are at increased risk for lung cancer, and this is especially high for people who also smoke.
The EPA has named January as National Radon Action Month, and encourages everyone to test their homes for radon and remediate them if radon levels are high. VDH’s Indoor Radon Program has a map of radon risk for Virginia showing areas with high and low risk, but even people in low-risk areas should get their home tested. Virginians can get a test kit for only $3 at VDHRadon.org. You can get more information from VDH’s Indoor Radon Program or EPA’s website on radon.
The COVID-19 pandemic has many people searching for remedies to prevent or treat the disease. In particular, recent media coverage of clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine (brand name Plaquenil, among others) and a similar medication called chloroquine (brand name Aralen) have led some people to take these without a doctor’s prescription, or to take a higher dose than what they have been prescribed.
In the United States, hydroxychloroquine is approved for the treatment of malaria, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Chloroquine is approved for the treatment of malaria. While they can be very effective in the treatment of certain conditions, side effects and toxicity can occur at even regularly prescribed doses.
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine toxicity can involve almost every organ system. Effects may include headache, vision or hearing changes, low blood potassium, and changes in heartbeat. If used without a doctor’s supervision, in combination with other medications, or by someone with underlying medical problems, side effects can include irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), seizures, and heart failure leading to death.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends no one take hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial because of the risk of heart failure. This medication and substances related to it (including those found in fish tank additives) should never be taken without a physician’s approval.
If you have taken hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine and are concerned about the possibility of side effects, call your doctor or the Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. For more information, see the Blue Ridge Poison Center’s article on hydroxychloroquine.
Because of COVID-19, many people are wondering how they can clean surfaces in their household to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. The Centers for Disease Control has guidance on how to clean and what products will kill the COVID-19 virus. While cleaning can help the spread of illnesses, even regular household cleaners can be dangerous if they aren’t used properly.
Follow these guidelines for safety:
- Don’t mix different cleaners together. Chemicals in different cleaners can react to produce irritating or even poisonous gases. Don’t reuse bottles.
- Follow the directions on the bottle. Store the cleaner in its original bottle, and make sure the label can be read. Some cleaners can cause skin and eye burns, so be sure you are wearing gloves and eye protection if recommended. Some cleaners are not intended to be used on food contact surfaces.
- Don’t get the cleaner on your skin or in your mouth. Even relatively mild cleaners can cause skin irritation if allowed to stay on the skin and vomiting if swallowed. Stronger cleaners can cause severe burns. Follow the directions on the bottle if the cleaner gets in your mouth or on your skin. If the label says to get medical help, call 911. If you aren’t sure what to do, call the Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222.
- Store cleaners out of the reach of children and pets. They should be stored in a locked cabinet or in a high place where children can’t reach and they can’t accidentally fall out. Teach children not to touch cleaners until they are old enough to clean safely.
Since cell phones began to be used widely, some people have been concerned about the potential for radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from cell phones to cause cancer. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the results of a comprehensive review of scientific studies published from January 1, 2008 to May 8, 2018 on RFR and human health effects, looking for any possible causal relationship between RFR and cancer. Their conclusion was that there was no measurable risk:
Based on the FDA’s ongoing evaluation, the available epidemiological and cancer incidence
data continues to support the Agency’s determination that there are no quantifiable adverse
health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current cell phone exposure limits.
The full FDA report can be read here.
In August 2019, the Blue Ridge Poison Control Center received a call regarding a patient who experienced hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) after using the supplement pill “V8”, which had been purchased at a gas station. Over the next month, 12 additional cases were reported from hospitals. An investigation by the Central Virginia Health District and the University of Virginia discovered that the supplement, which had been sold at several gas stations and convenience stores, contained a medicine used to treat diabetes. VDH worked to remove the V8 pills from stores where they were known to be sold, to prevent future exposures.
One risk of using unregulated supplements is that they may include unlabeled ingredients, which can be harmful. If you suspect that you are experiencing health effects due to poisoning, or have questions regarding this incident, call 1-800-222-1222.