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Do-it-yourself COVID treatments an evolving threat



(NEW YORK) — Since the beginning of the pandemic, toxicologists across the country have reported an uptick in poisonings as more people have begun trying at-home coronavirus remedies — to both prevent catching the virus and to attempt to cure it.

It’s been months since former President Donald Trump hyped unproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, and social media companies have since taken steps to curb the spread of medical misinformation, but doctors say some people are still trying unproven, dangerous methods.

“Poison centers are still responding to events related to COVID-19,” said Julie Weber, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers and director of the Missouri Poison Center. “On average, we are getting over 40 to 50 calls per day in addition to what we would normally get pre-pandemic.”

According to Weber, the threats keep changing. Recently, there’s been an increase in the number of calls for ivermectin — a drug used to treat parasite infections that people began trying as a COVID-19 remedy.

She said there’s limited information available about using the drug to treat COVID-19, but consumers aren’t waiting to get medications through the proper channels, adding: “We just had a case of someone using a veterinary source of ivermectin, a horse medication, that contains a significantly larger dose of the drug.”

Health experts continue to warn members of the public to think carefully about where they get medical information and to rely only on proven treatments and therapies recommended by doctors and federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts also warn against trusting companies that are offering dubious cures. Since January, the FDA has delivered warning letters to at least four companies for allegedly peddling unproven COVID-19 therapies — from tea to tinctures.

Since March 2020, the daily number of calls to poison centers for exposure to cleaners or disinfectants have increased by about 20%, mostly because of bleach exposure, according to the CDC.

Weber said calls linked to bleaches, hand sanitizers and cleaning products are still up, and sanitizers continue to be of particular concern.

“People are drinking hand sanitizer” and “taking almost any kind of cleaner or sterilant and using it on their skin because they think it will kill the virus, but these substances can be harmful to people as well,” said Dr. Joshua Nogar, the medical toxicology fellowship director at Northwell Health and an emergency medicine physician.

The FDA issued a strong warning last month about toxic, imported hand sanitizers that are especially dangerous if consumed.

“There have been some notable, very unfortunate occurrences of people who have fatally ingested pool cleaner because they were told it could kill COVID-19,” Nogar told ABC News.

In an effort to curb the spread of harmful misinformation pertaining to the virus, the World Health Organization and the FDA have launched campaigns to investigate fraudulent claims and to help people identify and report potentially false information.​

The World Health Organization has an entire webpage dedicated to debunking at-home remedies.

“There is so much information available to us, and no accountability for ‘facts’ that are being put out there,” Nogar said. “We should take all of the information that we consume on the internet with a grain of salt.”

“Everyone is desperate for a cure,” explained Dr. Nima Majlesi, the director of medical toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital and an emergency medicine physician, but “there is no such thing as completely eliminating our risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Majlesi added that it’s important for people to understand exactly what they are exposing their bodies to, weighing risk and reward, and discussing all potential options with a doctor.

“There are things that have been scientifically proven to substantially decrease our risk of illness from COVID-19,” Majlesi added, “such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting a vaccination when it becomes available.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 or usePoisonHelp.org. Services are free, confidential, available 24/7.

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