Trump's disinfectant ideas horrify doctors and academics

US President had said inserting ultraviolet light or disinfectant might help clear coronavirus from human body

Reuters April 24, 2020
US President had said inserting ultraviolet light or disinfectant might help clear coronavirus from human body. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

LONDON: US President Donald Trump’s musings on whether injecting disinfectants might treat Covid-19 has horrified medical professionals and raised fresh concerns that his stream-of-conciousness briefings could push anxious people to poison themselves with untested treatments.

An international chorus of doctors and health experts urged people not to drink or inject disinfectant on Friday after Trump suggested that scientists should investigate inserting the cleaning agent into the body as a way to cure Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

“This is one of the most dangerous and idiotic suggestions made so far in how one might actually treat Covid-19,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia.

Hunter said injecting disinfectants likely would kill anyone who tried it.

“It is hugely irresponsible because, sadly, there are people around the world who might believe this sort of nonsense and try it out for themselves,” Hunter told Reuters.

Trump said at his daily news briefing on Thursday that scientists should explore whether inserting ultraviolet light or disinfectant into the bodies of people infected with the coronavirus might help them clear the disease.

“Is there a way we can do something like that by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning?” Trump asked. “It would be interesting to check that.”

Trump said on Friday he was being sarcastic when he made the comments.

Trump also has promoted an anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine to treat people with COVID-19 even though its effectiveness is unproven and there are concerns about heart issues.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday cautioned against using hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients outside of hospitals and clinical trials, citing risks of serious heart rhythm problems.

'Miracle cure'

The suggestion that bleach and related compounds are a “miracle cure” has a history in America’s conspiracist fringes.

Last August, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a health warning here about MMS, or "miracle mineral solution," that was being sold online with instructions to mix it with lemon or lime juice before drinking. The combination forms a powerful, dangerous bleaching agent, the FDA said.

The US Justice Department last week ordered a halt to the sale of industrial bleach products by an organization called Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, which was allegedly marketing it as a cure for autism and AIDS.

Trump’s suggestion unleashed a torrent of ridicule online, with one comedian on social media app TikTok miming the action of injecting bleach into her veins like a drug.

On Twitter, journalists shared a video of Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House task force on the coronavirus, who appeared to look down, hunch her shoulders, and blink rapidly as Trump told the briefing that disinfectant “does a tremendous number on the lungs.”

The White House said on Friday that Trump’s comments had been taken out of context and that he had urged people to seek coronavirus treatment only after conferring with their doctors.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement, “President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing.”

The emailed statement did not directly mention cleaners or ultraviolet (UV) light as coronavirus treatments, but its subject was “White House on disinfectant.”

While UV light is known to kill viruses contained in droplets in the air, doctors have said there is no way it could be introduced into the human body to target cells infected with the coronavirus.

“Neither sitting in the sun, nor heating will kill a virus replicating in an individual patient’s internal organs,” said Penny Ward, a professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London and chair of the Education and Standards Committee of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine.

“Drinking bleach kills. Injecting bleach kills faster. Don’t do either!” she added.

Reckitt Benckiser, a British company that manufactures the household disinfectants Dettol and Lysol, issued a statement warning people not to ingest or inject its products.

Parastou Donyai, director of pharmacy practice and a professor of social and cognitive pharmacy at the University of Reading, said Trump’s comments were shocking and unscientific.

Donyai said people worried about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes should seek help from a qualified doctor or pharmacist, and “not take unfounded and off-the-cuff comments as actual advice.”

Donyai said previous comments by Trump had already been linked to people self-administering medicines or other products in ways that make them poisonous.

“We have already seen people mistakenly poisoning themselves by taking chloroquine when their hopes were raised by unscientific comments,” Donyai said.

Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a former US labor secretary, added on Twitter: “Trump’s briefings are actively endangering the public’s health. Please don’t drink disinfectant.”


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ