Reports of chemical exposures to the National Poison Data System rose in early 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019, likely a direct response to Americans cleaning more often and more thoroughly in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
From January to March 2020, there were 45,550 calls — a 20.4% increase from the same three-month period in 2019. The number of calls increased across all age groups and were due mostly to exposure to bleaches, non-alcohol disinfectants, and hand sanitizers.
In one case, a woman experienced breathing difficulty after inhaling noxious fumes produced when she used a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water to soak her produce. Her condition improved after being treated with oxygen and bronchodilators. Another case involved a preschool-aged child who swallowed ethanol-based hand sanitizer, which made her so dizzy she hit her head, leaving her unresponsive. She was admitted to the pediatric unit and discharged after 48 hours.
Authors who compiled the report for Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report concluded:
“Although a causal association cannot be demonstrated, the timing of these reported exposures corresponded to increased media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of consumer shortages of cleaning and disinfection products, and the beginning of some local and state stay-at-home orders.”
The report comes the same week as President Donald Trump, during a White House coronavirus task force press briefing, posed whether disinfectants that kill coronavirus on surfaces could also be used to fight the virus inside the body.
“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” he said. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The comment caused a ripple of responses from doctors and lawmakers, and even the manufacturer of Lysol disinfectant — all warning consumers against injecting or ingesting disinfectants because the chemicals are toxic.
The president also suggested ultraviolet radiation inside the body could kill the virus.
“My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that Trump had advised Americans to talk with their doctors about treating COVID-19, while scolding the media for taking Trump’s words out of context.