Disinfectant Risks Go Beyond Firestorm Over President’s Queries

Unsafe use of disinfectants has been in the news during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since President Donald Trump floated the idea of using the products to treat the novel coronavirus. All of that aside, the CDC is raising concerns about increasing calls to poison control centers related to disinfectants and sanitizers. Here is more information.

ATLANTA – In light of the controversy created when President Donald Trump floated an idea of using disinfectants to treat COVID-19 patients, pharmacists should expect questions on the safety of these products for human consumptions or infection.

In case a response that internal administration of disinfectants is extremely unsafe isn’t enough, here is some further information that can be shared:

Trump has since said he wasn’t serious, and the makers of Lysol, Dettol and Clorox quickly issued statements warning of the dangers.

“Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the company manufacturing Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus,” the company said. “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).” 

Clorox said in a statement, “Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances. People should always read the label for proper usage instructions.”

That brouhaha notwithstanding, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised concerns that the intense focus on cleaning and sanitizing during the COVD-19 pandemic has resulted in a 20% increase in chemical exposures reporting to poison control centers.

CDC recommends, with precautions, the proper cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces to help mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. An articles discusses efforts to assess any possible association between COVID-19 cleaning recommendations from public health agencies and the media, on one hand, and the number of chemical exposures reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS), CDC and the American Association of Poison Control Centers surveillance team, on the other.

Authors from the CDC and poison control centers compared the number of exposures reported for the period January–March 2020 with the number of reports during the same three-month period in 2018 and 2019. Their results were published in the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

Information came from 55 U.S. poison centers which provide free, 24-hour professional advice and medical management information about exposures to poisons, chemicals, drugs, and medications.

Results indicate that, during January–March 2020, poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners (28,158) and disinfectants (17,392), representing overall increases of 20.4% and 16.4% from January–March 2019 (37,822) and January–March 2018 (39,122), respectively.

“Although NPDS data do not provide information showing a definite link between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, there appears to be a clear temporal association with increased use of these products,” CDC researchers point out.

Public health officials report that the daily number of calls to poison centers shot up at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants The increase in total calls was seen across all age groups, but exposures among small children 5 and

“Further analysis of the increase in calls from 2019 to 2020 (3,137 for cleaners, 4,591 for disinfectants), showed that among all cleaner categories, bleaches accounted for the largest percentage of the increase (1,949; 62.1%), whereas nonalcohol disinfectants (1,684; 36.7%) and hand sanitizers (1,684; 36.7%) accounted for the largest percentages of the increase among disinfectant categories,” the authors write.

They note that inhalation represented the largest percentage increase from 2019 to 2020 among all exposure routes, with an increase of 35.3% (from 4,713 to 6,379) for all cleaners and an increase of 108.8% (from 569 to 1,188) for all disinfectants.

The CDC points out the possibility of improper use with the products, such as using more than directed on the label, mixing multiple chemical products together, not wearing protective gear, and applying in poorly ventilated areas.

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