Posted on: April 28, 2020 at 3:58 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:04 pm

As the total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States surges over one million, many Americans are desperately searching for ways that they can protect themselves and their families. 

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Health authorities are trying to offer guidance to the public and suggest ways that they can stay safe, but amidst the panic and fear that has spread across the country, this information can often be misinterpreted. On top of that, incorrect information is being disseminated from government officials, primarily the president himself. These messages are being taken seriously by many Americans and are putting the public at risk of inflicting self-harm.

Calls to Poison Control Centers are Increasing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compared the number of calls made to US poison control centers from January to March of this year with that of the previous two years, and have found that calls about exposures to chemicals and disinfectants have increased by twenty percent from 2019 to 2020 [1].

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The majority of these victims have been children under five, including a preschool-aged girl who was found unresponsive in her home after consuming ethanol-based hand sanitizer. Her blood-alcohol level was found to be three times higher than the allowable driving limit, but recovered after a night in the ICU and was sent home after a couple of days [1].

Another woman, who had heard that she should be cleaning all recently purchased groceries before eating them, was taken to hospital after filling her sink with a mixture of bleach, vinegar, and hot water to soak her produce. She had developed difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing, and was later determined to have low oxygen in the blood. She was treated and discharged hours later [1].

The report by the CDC found that bleaches, nonalcoholic disinfectants, and hand sanitizers, were the most commonly reported culprits, with inhalation being the most frequent method of ingestion [2].

While there is no direct link between the increase in poisonings and the coronavirus pandemic, the report states that the timing of these exposure correlates with the recent increase in media coverage surrounding the pandemic. It also notes that these numbers are likely lower than the actual number of poisonings that have occurred, since the data was collected solely from poison control centers, and did not include other emergency helplines [2].

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Read: Coronavirus survivor who gave birth in a coma holds her baby girl for the first time

Dangerous Misinformation

One of the largest contributing factors to this increase in calls to poison control centers is the dangerous misinformation. Some of which been recently propagated from government officials, namely the U.S. President.

During a recent press briefing, the president wondered aloud if it would be a good idea to inject disinfectants into our bodies to kill the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute,” said Trump, who has no medical expertise. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning.  Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.” [3]

Despite the fact that health experts very clearly stated that this was not a good idea, thousands of people began calling state hotlines, asking if ingesting Clorox or alcohol cleaning products would help them fight the virus.

After receiving backlash over his comments, Trump later argued that he was only speaking sarcastically to bait reporters. Some state governors are now criticizing him for spreading information that is incorrect and potentially dangerous.

“I think when misinformation comes out or you just say something that pops into your head, it does send a wrong message,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan [3].

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed her concern over his comments after seeing an increase in calls to poison centers.

“When the person with the most powerful position on the planet is encouraging people to think about disinfectants, whether it was serious or not, people listen,” she said [3].

Many different companies and makers of cleaning products have now also released statements warning the public of the dangers of ingesting cleaning products.

Read: New Zealand’s aim to be the first country to completely eliminate COVID-19 is working

How to Properly Clean Your Groceries 

Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., a professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, says that you should at the very least make sure you thoroughly wash your hands when you return home from the grocery store.

You may also wish to wipe down or wash cans or boxes of food before storing them, then wiping all counters and surfaces that came into contact with the groceries, and then washing your hands again [4].

When cleaning produce, you should not wash your fruits and vegetables with soap, because you run the risk of ingesting soap residue, which could result in vomiting or diarrhea. Jeff Farber, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety, says that washing produce with cold water and rubbing the skin with your hands is sufficient [5].

For another opinion on groceries and the coronavirus, check out this article here: Should You Disinfect Your Groceries To Prevent COVID-19?

Be a Savvy Consumer

Just as you should be suspicious of seemingly outrageous claims by companies and product manufacturers, so too should you be wary of the information you are hearing about how to protect yourself from COVID-19.

During these difficult and uncertain times, it is easy for misinformation to spread. Make sure that you are listening to health officials for information regarding how to prevent the spread of the virus, and always be critical of information from other sources. If you are uncertain, be sure to ask an expert for advice before ingesting any substance, since it could cause you harm.

If you have children at home, make sure that you keep all disinfectants, cleaning products, and sanitizers out of their reach. It is easy when you are anxious and scared for your family’s safety to act irrationally, so remember to stay calm, practice social distancing, and listen to health experts for instructions.

Keep Reading: People are dying of illnesses other than COVID-19 because they wait too long to seek help

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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