The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) has revealed the alarming numbers of teenagers taking part in a potentially lethal viral social media challenge and eating Tide Pod laundry detergent.
The AAPCC has issued a "high alert" warning as the number of teenagers eating the highly chemical and toxic pods to get social media views and likes continues to rise, although YouTube has vowed to remove any videos of the Tide Pod Challenge. Participants often either bite straight into the pods, or cook them and chew them before spitting them out.
The association "expresses continued concern over the improper use of single-load laundry detergent packets as the number of intentional exposures among teenagers rises".
During the first three weeks of January 2018, poison control centres in the US handled 86 deliberate cases among those aged 13 to 19. In the first two weeks of the year there were 39 such cases, with 47 in the third week, meaning the rate of Tide Pod eating more than doubled.
In 2016, the AAPCC dealt with 39 cases of teenagers ingesting laundry detergent, and 53 cases in the whole of 2017.
AAPCC's CEO and executive director, Stephen Kaminski, said: "Since our first alert to this life-threatening activity, the trend of intentionally ingesting single-load laundry packets has increased in its popularity despite repeated warnings."
Earlier, he said: "The 'laundry packet challenge' is neither funny nor without serious health implications. The intentional misuse of these products poses a real threat to the health of individuals. We have seen a large spike in single-load laundry packet exposures among teenagers since these videos have been uploaded."
Kaminski stressed that eating the single-use detergent packets can lead to seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma and even death, although no fatalities have so far been reported.
Previously, unintentional misuse by children under five accounted for most of the 50,000 calls to poison control centres relating to liquid laundry packet exposures in the past five years.
Tide's website says the pods are "super concentrated with 90% cleaning ingredients". Those ingredients include polyvinyl alcohol, denatonium benzoate, fatty acid salts, alcoholethoxy sulfate, disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, subtilisin, diethylenetriamine pentaacetate and calcium formate.
Tide has repeatedly directed people who tweeted that they just ate a pod to their local poison control centre. The company also recommends drinking a glass of water or milk as an antidote.
Tide recently created a safety video which has been viewed almost 10 million times informing people why they should not eat the pods. It advises: "What should Tide PODs be used for? DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else. Eating a Tide POD is a BAD IDEA."
Perversely, on reviews related to Tide Pod products on Amazon, people are exchanging tips about what Tide Pods actually taste like. Asked which flavour tastes best, one user quipped: "All taste great! Spring meadow is the original flavour though."
AAPCC said that anyone who eats a Tide Pod in the US should immediately contact the national Poison Help hotline on 1-800-222-1222, where experts are available round the clock.