During Thursday’s White House briefing on coronavirus, science administrator Wiliam N. Bryan said government has tested how sunlight and disinfectants like bleach and alcohol can quickly kill Covid-19 on surfaces.
Hearing this, President Trump returned to the pulpit. He speculated about injecting a disinfectant into a human body. He also wondered aloud whether hitting someone with a “great” beam of light would kill the virus.
Trump said on Friday that he was not thinking about the suggestions. “I was asking a sarcastic question to journalists like you just to see what was going to happen,” he said.
Sarcastic or not, the two statements of the president are without scientific foundation. Killing the coronavirus on inert surfaces and in living human bodies should be treated differently.
“It’s just scary to have to clear this up,” said Dr. Dean Winslow, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, specializing in infectious diseases and hospital medicine.
Sunlight is not a treatment
When the president turned to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, she replied that she had not heard of sunlight as an effective treatment for coronaviruses.
But for the human body, experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can damage DNA and make healthy human cells cancerous.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea, shall we say,” said Dr. David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center.
Ultraviolet radiation can also lower the body’s defenses and alter the functions of the immune system, according to Dr. Justin Ko, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Due to the shortage of protective equipment, some medical centers use UV light masks to decontaminate for reuse. But these germicidal lamps could be a health hazard if they were used on people.
Some skin conditions, such as psoriasis or certain lymphomas, can be treated with UV light. But for the most part, other diseases do not respond in the same way.
“It is simply nonsense to think U.V. light would treat a respiratory illness,” said Dr. Winslow.
Harmful if swallowed
On the label of most disinfectants, there is a version of this message: “Keep out of reach of children. Danger. Corrosive. Harmful if swallowed. “
This warning is there for a reason. Household disinfectants, if used improperly, can kill you or cause irreversible damage.
During Thursday’s briefing, Trump suggested to his staff that he “check” the medical uses of these household disinfectants, asking “is it possible to do something like that by injecting inside, or almost cleaning ? ”
In fact, there is no way to do something like this. At least not safely.
“Bleach, of course, and other types of disinfectants are made for surfaces,” said Dr. Scott Schaeffer, executive director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information. “They are not made for the human body. “
Bleach is dangerous because it is corrosive: it can destroy human tissue. If injected, Dr. Schaeffer said he “would anticipate major burns.”
Reckitt Benckiser, the British manufacturer of Lysol, warned customers against ingestion of its products on Friday. “In no case,” said the company, adding a bold character to the three words, “if our disinfectant products were to be administered into the human body (by injection, ingestion or any other route). The statement does not refer to the president by name, but quotes “recent speculation and social media activity”.
“Accidental exposure is problematic enough,” said Dr. Carol DesLauriers, assistant vice-president of the Illinois Poison Center, the country’s oldest poison center, speaking of household cleaners. “But you can really damage your skin, your stomach and your lungs if you use them inappropriately.” “
Covid-19 is “a virus harmful to your lungs,” continued Dr. DesLauriers, a licensed toxicologist. “You don’t want to make it worse by causing chemical irritation or injury to the lungs. “
Already, accidents with household cleaning products seem to have increased sharply in recent weeks, according to doctors who monitor activity in poisoned call centers. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarming trend of increasing calls to poison control centers and increasing accidental exposures to household cleaners and disinfectants. The increase appears to be attributed to the increased use of disinfectants in the home as people try to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
It would not be the first time that household cleaning products have put Americans at risk. Two years ago, the famous “Tide Pod challenge” was a brief viral trend in which teenagers were biting the brightly colored detergent packages, which put many people at risk.
Again, do not drink or ingest bleach. Disinfectants don’t just kill the virus. They can also kill you. If you meet someone who has ingested or injected household disinfectants, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers: (800) 222-1222. It’s free and has 24 hours.