Some Americans Dangerously Drank, Gargled Cleaners as COVID-19 Prevention

When approached by people looking to protect themselves against COVID-19, pharmacists might add a caution to the advice recommending use of disinfectants on regularly use surfaces. Based on a new survey commissioned by the CDC, misuse of cleaning protects could be widespread in the United States, including the very dangerous practice of ingesting or gargling with diluted bleach or other cleaning solutions. Here is more information.

ATLANTA – Nearly 40% of respondents to a recent survey reported intentionally engaging in at least one high-risk practice not recommended by public health officials for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. In fact, some of them said they had drunk or gargled diluted bleach solutions, soapy water or other cleaning and disinfectant solutions.

At least partly because of those activities, an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reveals that calls to poison centers involving exposures to cleaners and disinfectants have increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-led authors report that the activities include:

  • Application of bleach to food items (e.g., fruits and vegetables) (19%);
  • Use of household cleaning and disinfectant products on hands or skin (18%);
  • Misting the body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray (10%);
  • Inhalation of vapors from household cleaners or disinfectants (6%); and
  • Drinking or gargling diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, and other cleaning and disinfectant solutions (4% each).

Noting that data describing cleaning and disinfection practices within household settings in the United States are limited, especially related to prevention of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the study team conducted an opt-in Internet panel survey of 502 U.S. adults in May 2020. Researchers sought to characterize knowledge and practices regarding household cleaning and disinfection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Knowledge gaps were identified in several areas, including safe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of recommended personal protective equipment when using cleaners and disinfectants, and safe storage of hand sanitizers, cleaners, and disinfectants,” they said.

Compared to those who avoided misuse of cleaning supplies, respondents who engaged in high-risk practices more frequently reported an adverse health effect that they believed was a result of using cleaners or disinfectants --- 16% vs. 39%. Reported symptoms include nose or sinus irritation (11%); skin irritation (8%); eye irritation (8%); dizziness, lightheadedness, or headache (8%); upset stomach or nausea (6%); or breathing problems (6%).

 “Public messaging should continue to emphasize evidence-based, safe practices such as hand hygiene and recommended cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in household settings,” the authors suggest. “Messaging should also emphasize avoidance of high-risk practices such as unsafe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of bleach on food products, application of household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin, and inhalation or ingestion of cleaners and disinfectants.”

Survey questions were administered by Porter Novelli Public Services and ENGINE Insights on May 4, 2020, through PN View: 360, a rapid turnaround survey that can be used to provide insights into knowledge and practices of targeted audiences. The survey inquired about general knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to use of household cleaners and disinfectants and about specific information regarding cleaning and disinfection strategies for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

The median age of respondents was 46 years, and  52% were female. Overall, 63% of respondents were non-Hispanic white, 16% were Hispanic (any race), 12% were non-Hispanic black, and 8% were multiracial or of other race/ethnicity. Respondents represented all U.S. Census regions,** with 38% from the South, 24% from the West, 21% from the Midwest, and 18% from the Northeast, according to the report.

CDC researchers determined that participants had limited knowledge of safe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, with the following responses:

  • 23% responded that only room temperature water should be used for preparation of dilute bleach solutions,
  • 35% that bleach should not be mixed with vinegar, and
  • 58% that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia.

The survey demonstrated more knowledge on topics such as use of persona protective equipment, such as gloves and eye protection; the need for adequate ventilation and the necessity of handwashing after handling chemicals.

Most, 79%, of respondents said they understood that cleaners and disinfectants should be kept out of the reach of children, and 54% that hand sanitizers should be kept out of the reach of children.

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