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What Do Pesticides Have to Do with SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19?

Monday, March 16, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Written By: Diana R. Simmes, MPH and Rebecca Belloso, MPH, PERC-med1 in Collaboration with the National Pesticide Information Center 


You may be surprised to learn that many infection control products commonly used in healthcare are actually pesticides. More specifically, they are antimicrobial pesticides. Antimicrobial pesticides are essential tools in public health because we use them in hospitals, schools, bathrooms and food preparation areas to prevent the spread of germs that can cause disease. Pesticides help protect our food, water, and health. However, there are always risks related to their use.


Given global challenges with a COVID-19 pandemic, more and more antimicrobial pesticides are being used to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, now called SARS-CoV-2. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency activated the Emerging Viral Pathogens Guidance for Antimicrobial Pesticides to address the use of pesticides to control the virus. So what exactly constitutes a pesticide? A pesticide is defined as any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Microorganisms, bacteria and viruses are included in the definition of pests. Antimicrobial pesticide products kill or slow the spread of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi such as mold and mildew. You may find antimicrobial pesticide products in your workplace, home or school. These products are divided into two categories based on the type of microbial pest against which the product works; (a.) public health products and (b.) non-public health products.


Public health antimicrobial products are intended to control microorganisms infectious to humans in any inanimate environment. Commonly used public health products are sterilants, sporicides, germicides, disinfectants and sanitizers. Note that sterilizers in particular are used to reduce but not necessarily eliminate microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations. Disinfectant products are further divided into two major types; general use and hospital type. Currently there are no EPA-registered disinfectants that specifically include the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the product label as the registration and labeling processes take some time. However, a list of EPA registered antimicrobial pesticide products for use against SARS-CoV-2 was released by the EPA on March 3, 2020. Products on this list have qualified under the EPA's emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2. Please note that this list is not specific to hospital disinfectant products. There may be additional disinfectants that meet the criteria that could be added to the list.


Additionally, the CDC’s interim infection prevention and control recommendations for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 includes health care disinfection procedures in recommendation #10 for implementation of environmental infection control as follows:

  • Dedicated medical equipment should be used when caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19.
    • All non-dedicated, non-disposable medical equipment used for patient care should be cleaned and disinfected according to manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
  • Ensure that environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures are followed consistently and correctly.
  • Routine cleaning and disinfection procedures (e.g., using cleaners and water to pre-clean surfaces prior to applying an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant to frequently touched surfaces or objects for appropriate contact times as indicated on the product’s label) are appropriate for SARS-CoV-2 in healthcare settings, including those patient-care areas in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.
    • Refer to List N on the EPA website for EPA-registered disinfectants that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogens program for use against SARS-CoV-2.
  • Management of laundry, food service utensils, and medical waste should also be performed in accordance with routine procedures.

The National Pesticide Information Center has developed a non-health care guidance resource on how to effectively use disinfectants to control SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces and reduce the risk of exposure during usage of pesticidal products. As with all pesticides, carefully reading and following label directions is critical. For example, paying close attention to the specific contact time for the product on the surface being treated.


Finally, while you likely are knowledgeable about pesticides, it is important to learn more about their widespread usage across occupational settings. In addition to agriculture, many occupations have a pesticide exposure risk such as those working in the healthcare, hospitality, construction, landscape, fishing and forestry industries. Community health centers (CHC) may consider routinely including pesticide exposure histories for all patients, given the critical role CHCs play for medically underserved populations. Of note for medical providers, some states have mandatory reporting of pesticide-related exposures and illnesses. Specifically in NWRPCA’s Region X, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington have mandatory reporting requirements for pesticide exposures and illnesses while Idaho has optional reporting. The EPA manual, Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings, is an essential and in depth resource for treating patients with pesticide-related illnesses or injuries.


This article includes information from the National Pesticide Information Center, the U.S. EPA webpages on antimicrobial pesticides and from the CDC. For information on preventing, recognizing, and treating pesticide-related illnesses, free resources are available from the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative – Medical (PERC-med)1. Please contact the authors Diana Simmes (drsimmes@ucdavis.edu) and Rebecca Belloso (rabelloso@ucdavis.edu) to explore collaboration opportunities.


About the Authors:

  Diana Simmes will be presenting at the Association of Public Health Nurses Annual Meeting in Denver Colorado on April 22, 2020. She is the Pesticide Medical Education Director for PERC-med.



  Ms. Belloso is the Public Education Specialist for PERC-med. PERC-med is a cooperative agreement (#X-83935901) between the U.S. EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and University of California Davis Extension, in collaboration with Oregon State University. 



1PERC-med is a cooperative agreement (#X-83935901) between the U.S. EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and University of California Davis Extension, in collaboration with Oregon State University.








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