Health Canada warns against ingesting rapid antigen test solutions after 50 calls to poison control

Around 50 calls have been made to poison control around Canada so far due to accidental ingestion of or skin exposure to rapid antigen tests, according to a Health Canada advisory.

The advisory, posted Thursday, stated that no one has been seriously injured by misuse of a rapid test, and that only “minor health outcomes” have resulted from these poison control calls to date. 

It’s important to follow the instructions on the kits, Health Canada stressed in the advisory. 

“Health Canada has determined that the kits are safe and effective when used as intended,” the advisory states.

“However, many test kits include liquid solutions with chemical preservatives, such as sodium azide and Proclin that may be poisonous if swallowed or absorbed through the skin, particularly in children and pets.”

Rapid antigen tests have become a common and useful tool in staying safe during the pandemic. The kits come with detailed instructions for how to take your own mouth or nose sample with a thin, long swab.

If you’ve used a rapid test kit before, you’re probably familiar with all of the little parts that allow you to get results in 15 minutes — including a small vial of fluid that the swab sample processes in before a few drops are placed on the test strip to be evaluated.

This fluid can include chemicals that are not intended to be ingested by humans or to come into contact with our skin.

“Small doses of sodium azide can lower blood pressure, and larger doses may cause more serious health effects,” Health Canada warned. “Proclin is also found in many kits. It contains chemicals that can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as allergic reactions.”

Now, the kits include such a small amount of these liquid solutions that accidental ingestion or skin exposure is not expected to be able to cause some of the effects that these chemicals cause in larger doses.

“However, even small quantities may cause effects in small children and pets,” the advisory mentioned, adding that while using rapid tests, parents should ensure that the kit is out of reach of children and pets.

Rapid antigen kits that have been approved for use by Health Canada are known to be safe and effective when used as intended.

“Health Canada is advising Canadians on a precautionary basis to help mitigate the risks associated with misuse, accidental ingestion or skin exposure,” the agency said.

They advised that Canadians do not swallow the liquid solution included in these kits, and that they should avoid getting it in their eyes or on their skin.

After using a kit, wash your hands thoroughly, the advisory states, and if you spill the kit at any time on yourself, “rinse well with water”. 

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