Trump recommends disinfectant amid spike in poisonings

Sorry for the absence friends… Back on deck with some news. More soon, stay well.


Donald Trump’s recommendation that people inject bleach to fight coronavirus — which may have been the result of direct outreach from a promoter of fake therapiers — could not have come at a worse time. 

Just last Monday, the CDC published a specific warning about a large spike in exposures to household cleaners, with data derived from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which counts calls to poison information centers around the country. 

From January through March, there were 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants. The 28,158 calls on cleaners represented a 20.4% increase on 2019. The 17,392 calls on disinfectants - which Trump recommended people inject to fight Coronavirus - was a 16.4% increase.

Number of daily exposures to cleaners and disinfectants reported to U.S. poison centers — United States, January–March 2018, 2019, and 2020 (Source: CDC)

While 2020 saw a big jump, 2019 was basically steady on the previous year, according to the report. 

2020 has found another way to be wildly atypical. 

As the CDC points out, those numbers are likely an under-count of the number and severity of poisonings, since the numbers are “limited to persons calling poison centers for assistance”. 

It’s also hard to pin down a definitive cause — though the report suggests that efforts to wash hands an, homes, and linen more during the Covid-19 outbreak might be a factor, the NPDS doesn’t record that data. 

The data was striking enough to lead CDC approved an early release outside the normal publication schedule of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

The increase in exposures was not evenly spread across the categories of these products.

Per the report, among disinfectants, “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”. 

As usual, the majority of incidents involved children, but the proportion of young children affected markedly fell in 2020. Conversely, there were increases in the number of adult exposures. 

The false idea that bleach has therapeutic uses has been promoted in fringe health subcultures which overlap with the conspiracy-minded #QAnon subculture, which has practically deified the President as America’s savior. 

Dr William Banner heads the Oklahoma Center for Poison & Drug Information, and is a former President of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), which operates the NPDS. 

He said it was impossible to say how much of the bleach poisonings in Q1 might be due to misguided therapeutic ingestions. But he also said that associating detergents with Coronavirus therapy could immediately lead people in dangerous directions. 

Coronavirus is a respiratory tract infection, so presumably “you’d have to get it into the lungs”, and inhalation of bleaches is acutely dangerous - potentially more so than ingestion. 

As for intravenous use of such chemicals, even heavily diluted “invariably it would cause more problems than it solved”, noting that quack clinics which inject patients with hydrogen peroxide solutions had been on the radar of poison centers for a while. 

In highlighting the dangers of household chemicals, the CDC urged consumers to redouble their caution: “read and follow directions on the label, only use water at room temperature for dilution (unless stated otherwise on the label), avoid mixing chemical products, wear eye and skin protection, ensure adequate ventilation, and store chemicals out of the reach of children”. 

The President, meanwhile, apparently recommended that his audience experiment with the intravenous use of the same chemicals to counteract a virus which has neither a vaccine nor any proven treatment. 

(He insisted this morning that he was being sarcastic - a notion he has used before when the need to backtrack arises)

It’s not the first time he has given reckless health advice during this public health crisis. Previously he promoted chloroquine and hydrochloroquine. After he did so, a man died and his wife became seriously ill when they took a dose at concentrations meant for cleaning aquariums. 

There are some very provisional indications that there was a nationwide bump in exposures to those two chemicals in recent months, also. 

Figures provided to The End from the AAPCC show that while in March and April 2019 there were 104 exposures to chloroquine and hydrochloroquine, in March through April 21st, there were 161.

The numbers are still small overall, and it is hard to tie them directly to Trump’s recommendations. But these chemicals are also somewhat less hazardous than household cleaners. 

A similar spike in poisonings with household cleaners in coming weeks will raise questions about the effect the President is having on areas of public health beyond the federal government’s bungled Covid response. 

The End could not find any other recent examples of a world leader recommending that citizens poison themselves.


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