OTTAWA – Health Canada is warning Canadians of the potential risks associated with accidentally ingesting or spilling COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit solutions on the skin after hearing about dozens of calls to poison control centres.
The agency issued a public advisory on the federal government’s website on Thursday, saying it is aware of approximately 50 calls related to accidental exposure, which have resulted in minor health outcomes.
Health Canada said it was advising Canadians on “a precautionary basis” of the risks associated with misuse, accidental ingestion or skin exposure.
The agency said the tests are safe and effective when used properly, but many kits include liquid solutions with chemical preservatives — including sodium azide and Proclin — that may be poisonous if swallowed or absorbed through the skin.
Health Canada said small children and pets are especially vulnerable to adverse effects, even from small doses.
The advisory noted that small doses of sodium azide can lower blood pressure and larger doses may cause more serious health effects, while Proclin contains chemicals that can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as allergic reactions.
The website for the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said sodium azide is a “potentially deadly chemical that exists as an odorless white solid.” It is found in automobile air bags and used as a chemical preservative in hospitals and laboratories.
Health Canada advised that test kits and solutions be kept out of reach of children and pets, adding people should follow instructions for proper disposal and contact poison control centres in cases of ingestion or direct skin exposure.
Health Canada said the solution should not be swallowed and eye and skin contact should be avoided. If solution is spilled, the agency said to rinse well with water.
People can report health product-related side effects or complaints to Health Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2022.
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