US president Donald Trump has sparked outrage among the medical community by raising the idea that injecting disinfectant or irradiating the body with ultraviolet light might treat coronavirus.
Mr Trump picked up on research mentioned by White House officials showing that sunlight and disinfectant kill the virus outside the body, and floated the idea that similar measures might work inside patients.
“I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute,” Mr Trump said on Thursday. “One minute! And is there a way we can do something by an injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs . . . so it’d be interesting to check that.”
In fact disinfectants can be poisonous when swallowed. External exposure can burn the skin, eyes and lungs.
Doctors quickly responding by condemning the comments. Dr Vin Gupta, a lung specialist, told NBC News: “This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous. It’s a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves.”
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “There could be quite serious adverse consequences from what Mr Trump said. Disinfectants are meant to kill outside the body.”
John Balmes, a pulmonologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Bloomberg: “The airway and lungs are not made to be exposed to even an aerosol of disinfectant.”
“Not even a low dilution of bleach or isopropyl alcohol is safe,” said Dr Balmes. “It’s a totally ridiculous concept.”
Dr Deborah Birx, head of Mr Trump’s Covid-19 task force, had looked on as the president made his remarks at a White House press briefing, after hearing evidence of the way the virus behaves outside the body at different temperatures, climates and surfaces.
Later in the briefing he asked Dr Birx if she had heard of sunlight treating viral disease. “Not as a treatment,” Dr. Birx replied. “I mean, certainly, fever is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as….”
“I think that’s a great thing to look at,” Mr Trump interrupted.
The president has previously infuriated the medical community by extolling the merits of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment, as a potential Covid-19 drug. Clinical trials have so far shown no evidence that it is effective against coronavirus.
Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s expected Democratic challenger in the November election, said in a tweet: “UV light? Injecting disinfectant? Here’s an idea, Mr. President: more tests. Now. And protective equipment for actual medical professionals.”
Disinfectant manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser put out a statement on Friday: “Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the makers of Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2).”
“We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the UK-based company said. “As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines.”