It was a movement that swept the nation. An entire generation fell victim to its evil clutches and no one was spared. It was the great Tide Pod Epidemic of 2018. Except it didn’t really happen that way. Not at all.
As you probably know, the Tide Pod challenge became a “thing” on YouTube in January 2018 when people were suddenly consuming laundry packets as part of a viral dare. The idea of eating laundry packs began a few years prior on various websites including Twitter and Reddit when people said the pods looked like candy. It became a sort of a joke that seemed to escalate around 2016, when people went from joking about eating them to actually eating them.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers National Poison Data System began reporting the trend with 39 and 53 cases of intentional exposures in 2016 and 2017, respectively, among 13 to 19-year-olds. They issued a high alert in January of 2018 when more and more calls seemed to come in (probably because the YouTube videos were starting to catch on). By the end of January, 86 cases of teens intentionally ingesting Tide pods were reported. YouTube pulled the videos of people ingesting them at that point and we speculate that the numbers dropped dramatically after that, though the AAPCC declined to provide us specific numbers. It disappeared from the news shortly thereafter, though the burning question, “What is wrong with this entire generation?” stuck.
To put it in perspective, there are 42 million adolescents in the United States. The percentage of teens injured by Tide Pods was .000002% -- not exactly grounds for hysteria. Still, 86 people did put a laundry pack in their mouth on purpose, which is troubling. But over 73,000 people shoot themselves accidentally each year. 17,000 children are injured in lawn mower accidents annually and almost 13,000 people were injured by fireworks in 2017. Over 391,000 people were injured in 2015 due to distracted driving, including texting. The point is, people of all ages do a lot of stupid things -- a lot more than the handful of people who ate Tide Pods. Those accidents aren't nearly as entertaining, though, so no one is talking about them.
You know what's actually scary? As of November 30, 2018, 8,606 calls came in to the AAPCC for kids under five accidentally ingesting single-load liquid laundry packs and if anything, the absurd trend brought light to this important issue to keep the packs out of reach of children, who often mistake the brightly colored pods for candy. Of course, the pods are filled with heavy duty detergent, are obviously not meant to be eaten and should be kept away from little hands and mouths as the pods can kill if consumed. Tide offers a Child Guard Pack to keep them safer, but Proctor and Gamble also recommends keeping them up high and locked up for added safety.
The numbers of people calling poison control for laundry packs was the lowest it’s been since 2013 when the AAPCC started reporting data on accidental single-use detergent consumption, which means the word is finally getting out that these packs should be treated with care. Hopefully, the awareness and new safety features will lead to an even safer 2019.
TL; DR: If you really want to keep your teens safe, tell them not to eat Tide Pods and to stay away from most internet challenges, but prioritize talking with them about texting while driving and not wearing seat belts, the leading killers of adolescents in this country. Keep your laundry packs out of the hands of little ones and relax with the fact that the kids are (generally) all right.
You can reach your local poison control center by calling the Poison Help hotline: 1-800-222-1222. To save the number in your mobile phone, text POISON to 797979.