Why spraying disinfectant on people is harmful?

By Dr. Shruti Maroo Rathi

HOME | COVID-19 & DENTISTRY | Why spraying disinfectant on people is harmful?

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has spread across the world and has overwhelmed the entire health systems. There is a lack of scientific data to help with prediction, planning, containment and cure of the disease. This void created by the lack of information has rapidly driven innovation. For example; during the month of March, several migrants were crossing border to return to their states. Many visuals came out with migrant workers being sprayed with disinfectant solutions to avoid the risk of Coronavirus transmission. This strategy gained of lot of media attention and was also being reportedly used at local levels. It eventually resulted in development of human disinfection chambers where the person is hosed down with chemical disinfectants for 3-5 seconds. Chloroxylenol, benzalkonium chloride and chlorine-based chemicals are examples of agents commonly utilized as disinfectants in these chambers. [1] Several models, ranging from Rs 20,000 – Rs 1.5 lakhs, are still available in market and many dentists have fallen prey to it.

The growing popularity of these devices led Health Ministry of India as well as WHO to issue a detailed advisory on spraying disinfectant on people. A revision of these guidelines becomes even more important now as we dentists are all set to reopen our clinics and huge number of migrants would be returning to their work place.

What is the Difference between Disinfection and Asepsis?

Before getting into details of the advisory, it is important to understand the basic difference between disinfection & asepsis. Disinfection is a process that eliminates many or all pathogenic microorganisms, except bacterial spores, on “inanimate objects”. This means that the chemical disinfectants are to be used only on non-living surfaces, for e.g.; frequently touched areas/surfaces. Whereas, antiseptics are germicides applied to living tissue and skin and should not be used to clean the surfaces.

What are the Side Effects of spraying Disinfectants on People?

Whenever a chemical agent is used outside the manufacturer’s recommendation, for instance, a disinfectant safe for topical application issues when sprayed or aerosolized, may cause toxicity. The increased concentration of the disinfectant, duration, frequency of exposure (as in repeatedly going through a disinfection chamber to and from work, to and from lunch break, etc.) further magnifies the harmful effects. The safety limits or exposure limits have also not yet been established for several disinfectants. [1]

Another major cause of concern is that some of the chemicals used in these chambers have a low flash point (defined as the temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapour to ignite in air). It can cause the chamber to ignite due to an electrical spark or increase in ambient temperature. Some disinfection chambers have power supply sockets within the chamber which further increases the risk of combustion and electrical fire.

Advisory Against the sparying of disinfectants on human issued by Ministry of Health (Dated April 19th)

The contents of the advisory [2] issued by Health Ministry of India highlights that spraying disinfectants on an individual or group is pointless and NOT recommended under any circumstances because of the following reasons:

1. Spraying disinfectants on the external parts of the body does not kill the virus that has entered the body.

2. No scientific evidence to support the that they are effective in disinfecting the outer clothing/body in an effective manner

3.It can be harmful, physically and psychologically.
-Chlorine can be irritant to eyes and skin and may have gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
– Sodium hypochlorite can cause irritation of mucous membranes in nose, throat, respiratory tract and may also cause bronchospasm in rare cases.

4. Use of such measures may instill a false sense of disinfection & safety. It may even hamper public compliance with hand washing and social distancing measures.

Therefore, spraying disinfectants on humans is strongly objected as it not only has no scientific benefit but can also cause severe toxicity in individuals. It should only be used for cleaning and disinfection of areas of frequently touched surfaces at hospitals or clinics.



[2]Aseni Wickramatillake, Changa Kurukularatne, SARS-CoV-2 human disinfection chambers: a critical analysis, Occupational Medicine, , kqaa078, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa078

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