Just days after President Donald Trump appeared to publicly suggest that ingesting household cleaners could stave off coronavirus infections, states are reporting unusually high numbers of calls to poison control centers.
In an interview with NPR, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that its poison control center logged 30 cases of individuals injecting common disinfectants last week, compared to only 13 cases in the same 18-hour time frame last year. According to department spokesperson Pedro F. Frisneda, nine of the individuals in question had been exposed to Lysol, 10 cases were bleach-specific and the rest were all related to “exposures to other household cleaners.”
In a video posted to the “NYC Mayor’s Office” Twitter account on Friday, the same day the record-breaking number of calls was reported, NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot debunked the idea that household cleaners could protect New Yorkers if ingested. "Very clearly, disinfectants are not intended for ingestion either by mouth, by ears, by breathing them in — in any way, shape or form,” she said. “And doing so can put people at great risk."
But, the uptick in calls was not unique to just New York. The Illinois Department of Public Health was forced to issue a similar disclaimer last week following what the department’s director, Ngozi Ezike, said was “a significant increase in calls to the Illinois Poison Control Center in association with exposure to cleaning agents” following the president’s remarks.
On Sunday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also both reported an increased calls to emergency hotlines in their states from people seeking advice on how to parse the comments. “I want to say, unequivocally no one should be using disinfectant, to digest it to fight COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Please don’t do it. Just don’t do it.”
During a press briefing with his coronavirus task force on April 23, Trump appeared to make the dangerous and incoherent insinuation that using ultraviolet light and ingesting commercial cleaning products were among the potential treatments for the deadly virus that has claimed more than 55,000 American lives thus far. “I see the disinfectant — where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”
The comments — made in the midst of a pandemic — are not the first time Trump has used a public briefing to tout dangerous and unfounded medical advice. On March 19, Trump began boosting the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydryroxychloroquine as having the potential to fight the virus. An Arizona man has since died from ingesting aquarium cleaner that contained chloroquine as an additive, and research has thus far found no definitive improvements among coronavirus patients treated with the drug.
While the president loves to rail against the “Fake News Media” — and has since claimed that his comments were sarcastic questions that the press has mischaracterized — the harmful effects of his own misinformation campaign are undeniably being felt around the country.