January is Radon Action Month

EPA has set aside January as Radon Action Month. Radon is a tasteless, odorless, radioactive gas that can slowly seep out of the ground and build up in basements and ground levels of dwellings. High levels of radon in homes are linked to lung cancer, especially in smokers. Fortunately, radon levels can be reduced by installing a radon mitigation system. The first step is to find out whether radon levels in your home are too high, and the best time to do that is in the winter when windows and doors are kept closed and radon levels are highest. To help Virginia residents protect themselves from radon, the Virginia Department of Health is providing $3 radon test kits.  For more information on radon and to order your test kit, visit VDHRadon.org. You can also visit EPA’s radon page and the Virginia Department of Health’s Indoor Radon Program page.

FDA Warns Getting Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer in Eyes Can Cause Injury

The FDA released a warning that getting alcohol-based hand sanitizer in a person’s eyes can result in serious eye injury.  With the increased use of hand sanitizers, the number of such injuries has gone up. The risk is highest for children, because they may not know how to use hand sanitizer safely, and wall- or stand-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers are at eye level for them so they are at greater risk of being splashed when dispensing hand sanitizer.

To reduce the risk of injury, hand sanitizer should never be applied in or around the eye. When hand sanitizer is used, the hands should be rubbed until the sanitizer fully evaporates and the hands are dry. If eye contact does occur, immediately rinse the eye with water for 15-20 minutes. Get urgent medical help if irritation persists.

FDA Warns About Risks from a Hand-held UV Wand

The FDA has issued a safety communication about risks of ultraviolet light exposure from a hand-held ultraviolet-C (UVC) wand.  UVC light can cause damage to skin and eyes, and devices that produce UVC light should be designed to prevent injury to users.  Unfortunately, manufacturing defects or poor design can put users at risk. If you use a UVC device and develop skin or eye burns, please report this to the FDA.

Because of the danger of injury if a UVC device is used improperly or has a manufacturing defect, it is generally safer to clean surfaces using household cleaners or disinfectants. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has more information on how to safely clean and disinfect your home.

Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke

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.

Ivermectin and COVID-19

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.

Virginia Marijuana Laws Changing July 1

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.

Poison Prevention Week 2021

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.

National Poison Prevention Week 2021, March 21 – 27

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.

Poison Prevention Week 2021 Event Schedule

 

January is National Radon Action Month

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.

Safety of Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine

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.