COVID-19: Use Of Tear Gas By Authorities In US During COVID-19 Pandemic Is Totally Irresponsible As The Chemicals Can Increase Risk To Respiratory Illnesses
: It is shocking to see scenes of US authorities using tear gas and pepper sprays to disperse protesters in various states while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is still infecting tens of thousands of individuals each day. Studies have shown that the usage of these chemicals can increase the risk to respiratory illnesses. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003867/
Unknown to many despite these crowd-control weapons being rarely lethal, these chemical irritants can damage the body in ways that can spread the coronavirus and increase the severity of COVID-19.
It is known that the chemicals can have both immediate and long-term health effects. https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/riotcontrol/factsheet.asp
The usage of these chemical weapons by the Trump administration in recent weeks while the infectious COVID-19 disease for which there is no vaccine, continues to spread across the U.S., has stunned medical experts and physicians.
The SARS Cov-2 coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 is highly contagious, spreads easily through the air via droplets, and can lead to severe or fatal respiratory illness. Deploying these corrosive, inhalable chemicals could harm people in several ways: exposing more people to the virus, compromising the body’s ability to fight off the infection and even causing mild infections to become more severe illnesses.
Associate Professor Dr Sven Eric Jordt, a researcher at the Duke University School of Medicine who studies the effects of tear gas said, “This is a recipe for disaster.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5096012/#nyas13141-bib-0035
Dr Jordt refers to these chemicals as “pain gases” because they activate certain pain-sensing nerves on the skin and in the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose.
He explained, “You have this excruciating pain, sneezing, coughing, the production of a lot of mucus that obstructs breathing.”
Individuals who have been exposed describe a burning and stinging sensation, even a sense of asphyxiation and drowning. Sometimes the chemicals cause vomiting or allergic reactions. In law enforcement, officers generally use two types of chemicals for crowd control: CS gas and pepper spray.
The main active ingredient in pepper spray, called capsaicin, is derived from chiles. It is often sprayed from cans at close quarters or lobbed into crowds in the form of “pepper balls.” https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Capsaicin
Dr added, “CS gas (o‐chlorobenzylidene malononitrile) is a chlorinated, organic chemical that can induce ‘very strong inflammation’ and ‘chemical injury’ by burning the skin and airways when inhaled.
He added,“Using it in the current situation with COVID-19 around is completely irresponsible. There are sufficient data proving that tear gas can increase the susceptibility to pathogens, to viruses.”
Dr Jordt said research on the harms of tear gas has not kept up with its escalating use in the U.S and around the world in recent years. Many of the safety studies that law enforcement officials rely on date to the 1950s and '60s, he said.
However a 2014 study from the U.S. Army offers an alarming glimpse into how the chemical could escalate the pandemic. The study found that recruits who were exposed to tear gas as part of a training exercise were more likely to get sick with respiratory illnesses like the common cold and the flu. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003867/
Dr Jordt added, “We have a lot of antiviral defenses that can inactivate viruses and prevent them from entering cells. These are depleted by inhalation of tear gas and also compromised.”
The research findings of the Army study led the U.S. military to significantly reduce how much recruits were being exposed to the chemical.
Dr Jordt added, “Even the US Army realized they had done something wrong and that this was more toxic than they thought before.”
Dr John Balmes, a pulmonologist at the University of California-San Francisco and an expert with the American Thoracic Society commented, “Although there is a limited amount of research on the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, there are studies from China and Italy about how other irritants, such as smoking and air pollution, affect COVID-19. These studies indicate that tear gas could also make people more likely to develop severe illness.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32399563/?from_term=smoking+covid+meta&from_pos=1
Dr Balmes said, “I actually think the Trump administration could be promoting COVID-19 by tear-gassing protesters. It causes injury and inflammation to the lining of the airways.”
Dr Balmes said this period of inflammation sets back the body’s defenses, and makes it more likely that someone who already harbors the virus will become sick.
He added, “It is like adding fuel to the fire. These exposures to tear gas would increase the risk of progression from the asymptomatic infection, to a symptomatic disease.”
There is growing evidence shows many people who have the coronavirus are asymptomatic and don’t know they are infected, or are “presymptomatic” — infected with the virus and able to infect others, but not yet showing symptoms. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/13/831883560/can-a-coronavirus-patient-who-isnt-showing-symptoms-infect-others
The tear gas and pepper spray can also sow confusion and panic in a crowd. People may rip off their masks and touch their faces, leading to more contamination.
Significantly, Dr Amesh Adalja from Johns Hopkins University, said the body’s reaction to the chemicals might cause individuals to shed more of the virus.
Dr Adalja, who is also a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America said, “If they’re coughing, the particles actually emanate and are projectiles that travel about 6 feet or so and could land on other people.This is a way to almost induce the virus to be expelled from people when they are exposed to these agents.”
Dr Adalja anticipates the protests will inevitably lead to a spike in infections.
He said, “We know that any kind of social unrest, especially in the midst of an outbreak, is only going to make things worse.”
He cited the most recent example would be bombings in Yemen that exacerbated a cholera outbreak.
Professor Dr Rohini Haar, an emergency physician in Oakland, California, has studied the use of riot-control agents around the world.
Dr Haar who is a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley warned, “These weapons do not actually deescalate tensions in peaceful community policing.”
Dr Haar has also been treating COVID-19 patients. She recognizes there is a danger of spreading the virus at these gatherings, but she would not discourage people from attending the protests and exercising their right to free speech.
Dr HAar said, “It’s a really tough situation. I think the irony is that people are rightfully and justifiably protesting police violence and are being met with violence that is worsening the pandemic conditions we’re living under right now.”
The last few days have seen more than a thousand physicians and health care professionals signed an open letter in support of the demonstrations.
An infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago, Dr. Jade Pagkas-Bather, is one of them. She said it will be difficult to determine whether any spike in cases was a direct result of the protests, because they are happening at a time when many states are also allowing businesses to reopen.
She said, “In everyday life, we weigh the risks and benefits of our actions. People who are going out to protests are clearly at a critical juncture where they are saying this state-sanctioned violence is unacceptable, and I am willing to put myself and others potentially at risk.”
The online open letter she and many physicians and health professionasl signed recommends ways that protesters, police and local officials can reduce the transmission of the virus. Among the major recommendations: The trump administration and police should not use tear gas or pepper spray on any protesters as it could aggravate the COVID-19 situation. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Jyfn4Wd2i6bRi12ePghMHtX3ys1b7K1A/view
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