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Is There A Risk Of Sodium Azide With At-Home COVID Test Kits?

A woman conducting an at home COVID test puts the cotton swab in the tube of sodium azide.

Now, it’s easier than ever to test for COVID with at-home rapid tests. Rather than making an appointment to visit a doctor, we can test ourselves in the comfort of our own homes. Yet, as at-home COVID tests grow in popularity, poison centers around the U.S. are receiving more calls about sodium azide poisonings. Why is that, and how can you keep yourself and your family safe from exposure?

What Is Sodium Azide?

Sodium azide is a common preservative in many COVID test kits in very small amounts. It is a rapidly acting chemical that is odorless in its solid form. Mixing this chemical with water or acid will turn it into a toxic gas called hydrazoic acid which produces a sharp odor. This reaction is not expected from COVID test kits. 

What is it Used For?

Other than in COVID testing kits, this colorless, tasteless, and odorless chemical is commonly in automobile airbags and pest control agents. In a car’s airbag, sodium azide converts into nitrogen gas when mixed with other chemicals to inflate the airbag when it is deployed.  Sodium azide is also in chemical preservatives in hospitals and laboratories.

Sodium Azide in at Home COVID Test Kits

The at-home COVID test kits contain a tube of liquid that typically contains sodium azide as a preservative. After swabbing the inside of your nostrils with the cotton swab to collect a specimen, you put the cotton tip into the tube. This then creates a reaction that will result in a positive or negative test result.

This small vial that contains sodium azide in COVID test kits can be easily mistaken for a small squeeze bottle or eyedropper. Some test users have accidentally placed the nasal swab in the liquid prior to swabbing their nose. Children may ingest the liquid if they are able to get a hold of this tube. Since the popularity of COVID home testing kits, several poison centers throughout the U.S. are receiving reports of exposure to this chemical. 

Is Sodium Azide Toxic?

Yes, sodium azide is toxic. Whether it is ingested, inhaled, or comes in contact with your skin or eyes,  this chemical can cause toxicity in adults and children. This odorless white chemical can become toxic if mixed with water or acid. 

Signs & Symptoms of Sodium Azide Exposure

Fortunately, the risk of poisoning from sodium azide from a COVID test kit is low. Symptoms are minor and can include nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and irritation. Larger exposures from other sources can result in more serious symptoms, including: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate

How to Keep You & Your Family Safe

Sodium azide is readily available and now is in thousands of peoples’ homes since it is a key part of the at-home COVID test kits. The best way to keep you and your family safe is to store your kits, like all medications and household products, up and out of sight and reach of children. When using the kits, read the instructions carefully to understand how to handle the tube of chemicals and to discard it after use. Program the Poison Help Line into your phone today, 1-800-222-1222, in case of exposure or poison-related question.

Skin Exposure

Remove any clothing that may have come into contact with the chemical. Quickly wash any exposed skin with plenty of water and soap. Put the cloth in a plastic bag so that any sodium azide on the material won’t come into contact with anyone else. Call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 for additional first aid. 

Eye Exposure

If someone gets sodium azide solution in the eye, there can be immediate burning and stinging. If this happens, it’s important to begin first aid to avoid an eye injury right away. Immediately rinse with plenty of lukewarm water. Call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 for additional first aid.

Think You’re Experiencing an Exposure? Call The Missouri Poison Center Now

At the Missouri Poison Center, we offer poison and toxicology advice and care from registered nurses and pharmacists. Whether there was exposure at home or you have a question about a substance, the Missouri Poison Center is here 24/7 to answer your call. 

Call 1-800-222-1222 to get free and confidential help with poison exposures.

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