Donald Trump suggested ‘injecting disinfectant’ as a treatment for coronavirus - here’s why it’s extremely dangerous

Friday, 24th April 2020, 3:40 pm
Updated Friday, 24th April 2020, 3:40 pm

US President Donald Trump has been criticised by the medical community after suggesting that injecting disinfectants into the body could be a possible treatment for coronavirus.

The comment was made at a coronavirus task force briefing on Thursday (23 Apr), where the President also proposed exposure to “heat and UV light” as possible treatment plans - an idea that was quickly rebutted by a doctor in attendance.

Trump's suggestions come after a federal judge secured a temporary injunction against an organisation that was falsely marketing a product equivalent to industrial bleach as a cure for the virus.

Why are Trump’s comments dangerous?

Disinfectants like bleach are poisonous to ingest, and dangerous when mishandled externally. They can damage the skin, eyes and respiratory system, doctors say.

Equally, because UV radiation damages the skin and can lead to skin cancer, it is not deemed a desirable or possible cure for coronavirus. Exposing UV light to the outside of your body, on your skin, will not make any difference once the virus has entered the internal components of your body.

What prompted Trump's suggestions?

Before President Trump’s bizarre suggestions were made, an official presented results from a US government study, confirming that exposure to sunlight and heat seemed to successfully weaken the virus.

William Bryan, acting head of the US Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate outlined the results, which also revealed that bleach could kill the virus that was found on surfaces - contained inside saliva or respiratory fluids - within five minutes.

Additionally, it was found that isopropyl alcohol can kill the virus in an even shorter time frame.

Mr Trump was impressed with the findings, and suggested further research on using these methods on the human body.

Addressing Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Trump said, "So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light.

“I think you said that hasn't been checked but you're going to test it.”

The President then speculated about the possibility of bringing “the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.

"And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? It'd be interesting to check that."

Acknowledging his lack of credentials Mr Trump said, "I'm not a doctor.

“But I'm, like, a person that has a good you-know-what," while gesturing his hand towards his head.

He then asked Dr Birx if she had ever come across "the heat and the light" as a method of treating coronavirus.

"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 I've not seen heat or light."

What is disinfectant actually good for?

Disinfectants can kill many viruses, but only on infected surfaces and objects - they do not work inside the body.

Consuming or injecting disinfectants - as Trump suggests - risks extreme harm or death by poisoning, and would not be effective.

But, while using disinfectants internally is not a safe cause of action by any stretch of the imagination, using products with anti-microbial properties such as isopropyl alcohol or bleach to clean your home is highly advisable.

Does UV light affect the virus at all?

Additionally, while it is known that exposure to direct sunlight can quickly kill viruses found on surfaces, there is no evidence confirming the exact amount of time or UV exposure needed for this method to be effectively used by the public to clean their homes.

How has the medical community responded?

Doctors have now warned that the President's ideas could be fatal for viewers who take his suggestions seriously.

The makers of both Lysol and Dettol have issued statements warning against any internal use of their cleaning products.

Dr Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and global health policy expert said, "This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible, and it's dangerous.”

Another pulmonologist, John Balmes, at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, warned that merely being overly exposed to fumes from bleach can create serious health problems.

Speaking to Bloomberg News, he said, "Inhaling chlorine bleach would be absolutely the worst thing for the lungs. 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. It's a totally ridiculous concept."

The US Food and Drug Administration has since warned against ingesting disinfectants with a statement on their website reading, "The FDA has received reports of consumers who have suffered from severe vomiting, severe diarrhoea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration, and acute liver failure after drinking these products."

What has been the response on social media?

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president this year, responded to President Trump’s remarks on Twitter, writing, "UV light? Injecting disinfectant? Here's an idea, Mr President: more tests. Now. And protective equipment for actual medical professionals."

Other users of the social media platform joined Biden in criticising Trump, following his comments

“Just call on him to resign. He's clearly responsible for thousands of deaths and is endangering thousands more,” one wrote.

Another tweeted, “It just gets more unbelievable every day,” while another commented, “Trump is not sane #25theAmendmentNow”.