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Americans are doing more house cleaning and disinfection in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are turning to wild and dangerous tactics – such as drinking and gargling bleach solutions.
As early as April, the agency noticed an unusual increase in calls to poison control centers due to harmful exposure to household cleaning products such as bleach. The timing was associated with the spread of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (no statements from President Trump). To get a clearer idea of what's behind the climb, CDC researchers conducted an online survey on household knowledge and disinfection.
In total, they surveyed 502 US adults and used statistical weights to make them representative of the country's population. The results released on Friday in the CDC's weekly report on morbidity and mortality are breathtaking.
Overall, 60 percent said they cleaned and disinfected more during the pandemic, and 39 percent said they did at least one non-recommended cleaning practice that the CDC believes is a high risk.
The most common risky practice was washing fruits, vegetables and other foods in bleaching solutions. A total of 19 percent said they had done so. From there, 18 percent said they used household cleaners – no hand soap – to wash their hands and / or other parts of their bodies. Ten percent said they spray themselves with household cleaners and disinfectants.
39% of the respondents indicated a high-risk cleaning practice
Knowledge of safe cleaning practices
What was most worrying was that 6 percent of respondents said they had deliberately inhaled the fumes from household cleaners, including bleach. And 4 percent of people said to gargle or drink household cleaners, soap and bleach solutions.
Not surprisingly, 25 percent of respondents also reported unpleasant health effects from exposure to detergents such as dizziness, skin irritation, nausea, and breathing problems.
Participants did not fare well on a number of questions about safe cleaning practices. Only 23 percent knew that hot water should not be used to make bleaching solutions. And only 35 percent knew that bleach should not be mixed with vinegar. Fifty-eight percent knew that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia. (Heating the bleach or mixing with vinegar or ammonia can produce chlorine or chloramine amine, which can damage the lung tissue.)
Despite poor performance on these issues, 82 percent said they strongly agree or agree with the statement that they know how to safely clean and disinfect their home.
The authors concluded that:
Despite the knowledge gaps and risk practices identified in this survey, most respondents believed that they knew how to safely clean and disinfect their homes. Prevention messages should therefore identify identified gaps in knowledge about safe and effective practices and provide targeted information on safe cleaning and disinfection using innovative communication strategies (e.g. digital, social media).
These messages include ensuring that people read the safety information on the product labels, use only room temperature water when diluting detergents (unless otherwise stated on the label), avoid mixing chemicals, wear skin and eye protection, clean and store in a well-ventilated area out of the reach of children.