Geospatial correlation between COVID-19 health misinformation and poisoning with household cleaners in the Greater Boston Area
Calls to poison control about exposure to household cleaners have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This dynamic may reflect increased exposure from public health efforts as well as health misinformation shared on social media. We analyzed the dynamics of calls to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island (MARI PCC) and tweets discussing treating COVID-19 with house cleaners from January 20, 2020 to May 5, 2020. We obtained publicly
... ined publicly available tweets discussing the use of household cleaners to "cure COVID" from the same time period with geographic co-ordinates indicating that they were emitted from the Greater Boston Area. Our main finding is that public health efforts were followed by a sustained increase in calls after March 15, 2020 (10 ± 2 calls per day before to 15 ± 2.5 after) while misinformation on social media was associated with intermittent spikes in calls. Overall, calls significantly increased during the study period by 34% as compared to the previous 8 years, mostly reporting unintentional ingestions with no serious effects. The daily volume of tweets and retweets was significantly correlated with daily call rates to MARI PCC for the surrounding 7-10 days. Health misinformation on social media about using household cleaning agents to treat COVID-19 and public health efforts lead to different dynamics in PCC calls. Public health efforts were followed by a sustained increase in calls after March 15, 2020 while misinformation on social media was followed by intermittent spikes in calls. This analysis is the first to link the geospatial dynamics of social media and public health interventions to poison center calls about exposure to household cleaners.