Why Injecting or Ingesting Disinfectant Might Kill You

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Kelly Sikkema

Whether he was serious or not, comments made by President Donald Trump have gotten some people thinking about whether ingesting disinfectant cleaning products might be an effective way to combat COVID-19. It’s not, and this is why.

If you or someone you know has injected or swallowed a disinfectant cleaning product, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 or dial 911 immediately. 

Okay, I’ve heard about this, but what did he actually say?

During a coronavirus task force press briefing on April 23rd, President Donald Trump, it seems, felt emboldened to riff on possible new and never-before-seen medical approaches to treatment of COVID-19. Looking in the direction of Department of Homeland Security science official Bill Bryan and coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, President Trump said:

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.”

Whether or not this was “sarcasm“, President Trump’s suggestions have led to a storm of incredulity, outrage, and in many cases, confusion among people. Please do not inject or swallow bleach or other cleaning products! We’ll share exactly why this would be extremely dangerous.

Why Injecting Disinfectant is a Terrible Idea

doctor with folded arms
Injecting disinfectant products into your body will cause extensive damage. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Online Marketing)

What would happen if you did inject yourself with a disinfectant or bleach? The online magazine Slate consulted toxicologists and other experts to find out exactly how this would harm your body:

  • Depending on the exact active ingredient and the amount injected, effects could include organ failure, anemia, cardiac arrest, and/or death.
  • Large quantities of bleach do serious damage to the kidneys, and cause blood clots.
  • Your body depends on the oxygen delivered by red blood cells to function. Bleach causes red blood cells to rupture, which prevents them from performing this essential task. This could bring about a slow death caused by organ failure and other complications.
  • The lining of the veins would become inflamed, causing blood clots and an intensely painful burning sensation at the injection site and sometimes near the chest.
  • The chlorine in bleach can also alter the pH value of the blood, which could trigger cardiac arrhythmias and cause kidney damage.
  • Injecting isopropyl alcohol would cause irritation of the blood vessels, rupturing of cells, and blood clots, and could quickly lead to alcohol poisoning.

What about ingestion?

heart-rate monitor
You should never ingest cleaning products for any reason. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Jair Lazaro)

Why shouldn’t I ingest Lysol?

The active ingredient in most Lysol products is benzalkonium chloride. Benzalkonium chloride is a severe skin and eye irritant, as well as a suspected respiratory toxicant, immunotoxicant, gastrointestinal toxicant and neurotoxicant. Ingestion can cause corrosive changes of the mucosal surfaces of the tongue, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and stomach, and can be fatal.

What about ingesting hand sanitizers that use ethyl alcohol as their active ingredient? 

Swallowing ethyl-alcohol based hand sanitizers will not kill infections in your body. It will, however, give you severe alcohol poisoning and could kill you. While it’s true that ethyl alcohol is the same kind of alcohol that is found in beer, wine, and vodka, it is found in hand sanitizers in much higher amounts, causing your body to become poisoned very quickly. 

And drinking isopropyl alcohol?

According to slate.com’s experts from before, “drinking isopropyl alcohol can cause internal bleeding and depletion of stomach lining.”

Bleach?

The active in ingredient in bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a corrosive oxidizing chemical. That means, it destroys tissue and causes chemical burns. According to howstuffworks.com, if you drink bleach, you are about to be in serious pain. “Symptoms range from gagging, pain and irritation in the mouth and throat; pain and possible burns in the esophagus and stomach; vomiting; and shock can appear right away to within a few hours. If you don’t treat the symptoms immediately, you can permanently damage your gastrointestinal tract and internal organs — and, depending on how much you drink, you could die.”

The Bottom Line: Taking any sort of disinfectant into your body will hurt you, not help you, and you should never, ever do it.

Trump’s Statement: Spreading Ignorance and Confusion

red telephone
Following Trump’s press briefing, hundreds of people have been calling local health departments to ask if injecting disinfectant is safe. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Miryam Leon)

Trump’s statement triggered an instant maelstrom of responses from doctors, government officials, and cleaning-product manufacturers warning people that disinfectant products should never be administered into the human body. But many people still felt confused and disoriented after receiving what seemed like conflicting information from the president and the medical community. Many turned to their local health departments for clarity, and an unfortunate few decided to try it out for themselves.

  • New York City: During the first 18 hours after the press briefing, NYC poison control center received more than double its usual number of calls. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the poison control center recorded 30 cases, including nine cases “specifically about exposure to Lysol, 10 cases specifically about bleach and 11 cases about exposures to other household cleaners,” department spokesperson Pedro F. Frisneda told NPR news.
  • Maryland: Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland declared “We had hundreds of calls in our hotline here in Maryland about people asking about injecting or ingesting these disinfectants…” 
  • Illinois: Two days after the press briefing, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike reported significant increase in poison control center calls. Such calls included someone using a detergent based solution for a sinus rinse and another person gargling with a bleach and mouthwash mixture to kill germs, Ezike said. 
  • Michigan: In Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer reports hundreds of calls to emergency hotlines about questions about consuming disinfectants.

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