Everyone needs to stay in shape if they want to try to avoid severe disease from COVID-19. One of the most common co-morbidities with people who die from COVID-19 is obesity. An excellent way to stay fit is to go to the gym, lose some weight and increase your fitness.

I try and go now and again but what I can’t stand is the constant spraying of disinfectant. Everywhere I go, someone is spraying a piece of equipment, there are bottles of the stuff everywhere. Just as my lungs desperately need some oxygen on the treadmill, a cloud of the stuff drifts over and enters my airways instead. The gym itself is bad enough but in classes, every 5 minutes people are asked to spray everything they have touched so that the next person can have a go.

This irritates me, both mentally and in my lungs. One of my biggest bugbears over the past two years is the amount of anti-science that has crept in and the number of people who go along with it. Generally, these anti-science measures are brought in by do-gooding individuals who lack the ability to think critically but want desperately to be seen to be doing something positive. Doing something for the sake of doing it, isn’t necessarily positive and can often lead to unintended consequences.

Every time I go to the gym, I tell myself to look into whether there are any harms from all this disinfectant. Instinctively, breathing in a load of chemicals can’t be good, especially deep down into your lungs. However, I keep putting it off, either finding different articles to write or perhaps not wanting to discover that my gym visits have actually done me more harm than good.

So firstly, is there any scientific basis behind the constant spraying? The simple answer is no. This Nature article from January 2021 explains that SARS-CoV-2 rarely spreads through surfaces and is not a major source of infection.

I will give the do-gooders the benefit of the doubt in 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, new studies were coming out all the time claiming the virus would linger on surfaces. In May 2020 the WHO and public health agencies were advising that surfaces should be sprayed.

However, by July, as the Nature article points out, Emanuel Goldman wrote an article for The Lancet Infectious Diseases arguing that surfaces present little risk to transmission. The CDC now says transmission from surfaces is “not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads” [COVID-19 doesn’t spread, it’s SARS-CoV-2 that spreads, well done CDC].

So the benefit of the doubt I gave to them expired 18 months ago. However, the spraying has intensified ever since.

It’s not as if there isn’t any literature on the subject either. A quick Google finds numerous studies explaining the harm done from constantly inhaling disinfection products.

study published on the NIH National Library of Medicine examined the health problems and disinfectant product exposure among staff at a large multispecialty hospital. They concluded that disinfectant product users reported a higher prevalence of work-related wheeze and watery eyes. Furthermore, there was a >3 fold excess of asthma compared with the US population.

They found that the disinfectant was associated with mucous membrane and respiratory health effects. They suggest that risks of mucous membrane irritation and asthma in health care workers should be considered in the development of disinfection protocols to protect patients from hospital-acquired infections.

In 2019, the JAMA Network found an association of occupational exposure to disinfectants with an incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US female nurses.

The results of their study found that in a cohort study of 73,262 US female nurses, who were followed up from 2009 to 2015, occupational exposure to cleaning products and disinfectants was significantly associated with a 25% to 38% increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease independent of asthma and smoking.

Once the pandemic started, a ScienceDirect article produced a comprehensive review on the chemicals inhaled from spray cleaning and disinfection products and their respiratory effects.

They concluded that the chemicals in the disinfectant may lead to respiratory effects ranging from acute temporary upper airway irritation to obstructive lung disease, including asthma and asthma-like disease. Some of the cleaning chemicals or mixtures thereof in the products could potentially cause chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).

And finally, another study from August 2020 in ACS Publications, looked at the increased indoor exposure to commonly used disinfectants during the COVID-19 pandemic. They focussed on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs or “quats”) which make up a class of chemicals used as disinfectants in cleaning and other consumer products.

They concluded that while disinfection is recommended for maintaining a safe environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased use of QACs is concerning as exposure to these compounds has been associated with adverse effects on reproductive and respiratory systems.

So there is very limited risk of transmission by touching surfaces but the obsessive spraying continues. Along with the do-gooders, the general population feels like they need to be doing something. When something is too complex to understand they blindly go for the easy solutions, hoping to make a difference. However, most people fail to grasp that small changes in complex systems potentially have massive impacts.

If you are a gym instructor or regularly go to the gym then increased exposure to the chemicals in disinfectants can potentially cause health problems from asthma to lung disease to reproductive problems.

In fact, if you are in any environment with obsessive disinfectant spraying, all in the name of protecting you from a virus, then tell them to stop. Send them this article and ask them whether they have undertaken a risk/benefit analysis of the situation. Tell them that it won’t be good for business when staff and customers develop health problems and look at who to blame.

I recommend you share this article with anyone who works in such an environment.

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By Daemon

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