Health workers in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh in India recently sprayed disinfectants on a group of migrant workers to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. This draws us to one of the many prevailing myths around Covid-19.
The myth here is that ‘spraying disinfectants on people’ prevents the spread of the virus. This is a misconception, and is extremely hazardous as it involves people having direct contact with toxic chemical substances.
The World Health Organization clearly states that spraying alcohol or chlorine all over one’s body will not kill viruses that have already entered the body and that the spraying of these substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e., eye, mouth). It also warns people to be aware of the use of alcohol and chlorine as disinfectants since appropriate recommendations are to be followed during usage.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its detailed guidelines for prevention of the disease highlights valuable pointers shattering this dreadful myth regarding the use of disinfectants on people. Disinfectants are chemicals used on inanimate objects owing to their strong chemical properties. The issued guidelines of CDC recommend cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas only in households with people isolated in home care, meaning those who are suspected or confirmed to have COVID 19 while it provides general recommendations for routine cleaning and disinfection of other households.
The guidelines importantly highlight the precautionary measures to be adopted while using disinfectants for cleaning – wearing gloves during disinfection, discarding gloves after cleaning or dedicating a specific pair of reusable gloves for cleaning purposes besides strictly following manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning products. These pointers highlight how the slightest contact with disinfectants is to be avoided with great care while we are faced with the task of protecting ourselves against the spread of the virus. It is alarming to note that panic and ignorance has led groups of people into falsely assuming that spraying disinfectants on their bodies is a means of protection while it can only elevate risks and harm.
The most cost effective and commonly used disinfectant Sodium Hypochlorite termed commonly as 'bleach' (usually in strengths of 10%) can lead to potential health effects on inhalation, skin contact, eye contact and ingestion. Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) reveals that inhalation of sodium hypochlorite can lead to irritation of mucous membranes to the nose, throat and respiratory tract. MSDS states that in case of the disinfectant’s presence on clothing, all contaminated clothes should be removed and the skin be rinsed with water for fifteen to twenty minutes. The safety sheet also states the severity of effects in case of an eye contact depending on the concentration and potential damages include tearing, burning of eyes and corneal injury.
The use of disinfectants except on frequently touched surfaces is not recommended and is harmful. It is essential that we don’t perpetuate the myth of spraying disinfectants on people as a protective measure.
Spread the message: ‘Spraying disinfectants on people doesn’t help and is dangerous.’
The author is a BA student (Class of 2021) at National School of Journalism and Public Discourse.