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  • Posted June 5, 2020

Bleach on Fruit, Lysol Gargles: Many Getting Home Disinfection Dangerously Wrong

Nearly two out of five Americans are using bleach and other household cleaners in potentially dangerous ways in an effort to protect themselves against COVID-19 infection, a new survey reveals.

About 20% Americans say they have applied bleach to their fruits and vegetables as a means of disinfection, a practice not recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other unsafe practices some Americans have adopted to ward off infection, according to a survey published online June 5 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, include:

  • Using household cleaning products on hands or skin (18%).
  • Misting the body with a cleaning or disinfecting spray (10%).
  • Inhaling vapors from cleaners or disinfectants (6%).
  • Drinking or gargling diluted bleach solution, soapy water or other cleaners or disinfectants (4%).

Overall, 39% of Americans reported engaging in at least one of these practices, which "pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided," the report warned.

People engaging in at least one high-risk practice were more than twice as likely to suffer chemical-related health problems compared to those who were safer, 39% versus 16%.

The study blamed these risky behaviors on "important knowledge gaps in the safe use of cleaners and disinfectants among U.S. adults."

These gaps extend to the highest office in the land. President Donald Trump mused during an April news briefing whether bleach or isopropyl alcohol could be used internally to prevent COVID-19 (it can't).

The CDC survey also revealed a lack of understanding about how to carefully use household cleaners.

Just 23% said that only room temperature water should be used to dilute bleach. Only 35% knew bleach shouldn't be mixed with vinegar, and just 58% knew that it's dangerous to mix bleach with ammonia.

About one-quarter of people said they'd wound up sickened as a result of using cleaners or disinfectants.

Health problems included nose or sinus irritation (11%), skin irritation (8%), eye irritation (8%), dizziness or headache (8%), stomach upset or nausea (6%) or breathing problems (6%), according to the report by Radhika Gharpure of the CDC's COVID-19 Response Team, and colleagues.

The authors of the report concluded that future messages about COVID-19 prevention "should include specific recommendations for the safe use of cleaners and disinfectants, including the importance of reading and following label instructions, using water at room temperature for dilution (unless otherwise stated on the label), avoiding mixing of chemical products, wearing skin protection and considering eye protection for potential splash hazards, ensuring adequate ventilation, and storing and using chemicals and hand sanitizers out of the reach of children and pets."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about cleaning and disinfecting your home.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 5, 2020, online
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