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Michigan poison control calls jump after Trump’s disinfectant remarks

LANSING — Don’t drink Lysol or bleach, please.

Michigan health officials issued the reminder after poison control calls jumped following President Donald Trump’s public speculation last week over whether disinfectants could be used to clean out human bodies and treat COVID-19.

The Michigan Poison Center, run by Wayne State University, had already seen an uptick in similar calls since families have used more cleaning supplies during the pandemic, but there “has been a definite increase” since the president’s Thursday evening briefing, community outreach educator Denise Kolakowski told Bridge Magazine on Monday.


Between Friday and Sunday, there were 65 poison center calls about exposure to household cleaning substances, including 16 calls about bleach and nine calls about disinfectants, according to data from the center. That was up about 86 percent from the prior weekend and 55 percent over the same span last year.

All told, there were 184 calls about industrial or household cleaning products last week, up from 119 calls for the week ending April 18, Kolakowski said.

There’s been a “slight increase” in calls from residents simply seeking information about cleaning products, but “the majority of the calls that we get are regarding people who have some type of exposure,” she said. “That could mean they got it in their eye or that they’ve accidentally swallowed it or it’s been on their skin for some period in time.”

In a White House press briefing last week, Trump said that disinfectants can “knock out” the coronavirus when used to clean surfaces and speculated whether they could be used as an “injection inside, or almost a cleaning” of the body. 

The president later said he was being “sarcastic” and complained about media coverage of his comments. But Lysol, a popular cleaning supply company, was compelled to issue a public warning against ingestion, and public officials in Illinois, New York and Maryland have also reported an increase in poison control calls. 

Michigan officials had attributed previous upticks in exposure calls to children forced to stay home during the lockdown. In some cases, parents have wiped their children with disinfectant, which can cause skin irritation or even burning in infants. In other cases, children are ingesting hand sanitizer or cleaning chemicals purchased by adults. 

“You turn your back, and kids are fast,” Dr. Cynthia Aaron, the center’s medical director, told Bridge Magazine last week. 

But weekend calls to the Michigan Poison Center were not limited to children, according to data from managing director Varun Vohra, an assistant professor in WSU’s department of emergency medicine. 

Of the 65 calls about exposure to household cleaning supplies, 27 involved “unintentional exposures” to children 10 or younger, she said. There were also six unintentional exposures of children to hand sanitizer.

“No way of confirming this, but with increased media exposure, more individuals may be purchasing/keeping larger stocks and quantities of cleaning agents, which inherently heightens risk of unintentional exposures in the pediatric population,” Vohra said in an email to Bridge. 

All told, the poison control center fielded 476 total exposure calls between Friday and Sunday, 

That was up about 11 percent from 427 the prior weekend, according to Vohra. Calls involving exposure to household and industrial cleaners jumped 61 percent, while total calls about cleaning products (including those seeking information only) were up 89 percent.

The Michigan Poison Center urged residents to read any directions on industrial or household cleaning products before using them. If recommended on the packaging, users should wear gloves or open windows to dilute fumes. 

“Keep in mind that these products are never to be used on the body or inside of the body for disinfection or any type of disease prevention,” Kolakowski  said. “They’re not intended for that. They’re intended only for use on surfaces in the homes or in businesses.” 

New York City’s health department said this weeked that calls about exposure to Lysol, bleach and other cleaning products increased in an 18-hour period following Trump’s briefing, more than doubling compared to the same span the prior year.

In Illinois, Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said there had been a “significant increase” in poison control calls since Thursday, telling reporters that one person even tried to gargle mouthwash mixed with bleach.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shared similar accounts Sunday in interviews on ABC’s This Week. 

“We have seen an increase in numbers of people calling poison control, and so I think it’s really important that every one of us with a platform disseminate medically accurate information,” said Whitmer, a Democrat. “I want to say, unequivocally no one should be using disinfectant, to digest it to fight COVID-19. Please don’t do it. Just don’t do it.”

Hogan, a Republican, added: “When misinformation comes out, or you just say something that pops in your head, it does send a wrong message.”

Maryland has seen “hundreds of calls come into our emergency hotline at our health department asking if it was right to ingest Clorox or alcohol cleaning products — whether that was going to help them fight the virus,” Hogan said.


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