Health, Information & Communication, Populism

Trump comments prompt doctors, and Lysol, to warn against injecting disinfectants

Apr 24 2020

By Allyson Chiu, Katie Shepherd and Brittany Shammas -The Washington Post

After a presentation Thursday that touched on the disinfectants that can kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces and in the air, President Trump pondered whether those chemicals could be used to fight the virus inside the human body.

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

The question, which Trump offered unprompted, immediately spurred doctors, lawmakers and the makers of Lysol to respond with incredulity and warnings against injecting or otherwise ingesting disinfectants, which are highly toxic.

“My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post. “This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice. This is dangerous.”

In a statement Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany noted that Trump had said Americans should consult with their doctors about treatment. She accused the media of taking his words out of context.

“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,” she said.

Trump’s eyebrow-raising query came immediately after William N. Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, gave a presentation on the potential impact of summer heat and humidity, which also included references to tests that showed the effectiveness of different types of disinfectants. He recounted data from recent tests that showed how bleach, alcohol and sunlight could kill the coronavirus on surfaces.

Bryan said bleach killed the virus in about five minutes and isopropyl alcohol killed it in 30 seconds. In tests, sunlight and high temperatures also appeared to shorten the virus’s life on surfaces and in the air, Bryan said.

Trump has previously claimed that the arrival of summer weather will help fight the coronavirus outbreak without resorting to measures that carry significant economic ramifications. The study Bryan presented Thursday appeared to support those claims to some degree, although its results have not been peer-reviewed.

As Bryan left the podium without answering reporters’ questions, Trump stepped up to the microphone. Before he allowed anyone to ask a question, the president offered an answer to a “question that, probably, some of you are thinking of if you are totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting.”

That’s when he asked about injecting an unspecified disinfectant into the lungs of covid-19 patients. He also raised the possibility of using light to combat the viral infection and suggested consulting medical doctors with these questions.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan. “And then, I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.”

He continued: “And I think you said you’re going to test that, too. Sounds interesting.”

As the president spoke, one of his top public health experts, Deborah Birx, who serves as the response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, listened in a chair a few feet away from the podium.

Birx did not immediately respond to Trump’s remarks about light therapy or disinfectant injections at the coronavirus briefing. Instead, she watched silently from the sidelines, her lips pressed in a tight line as Trump riffed on testing the unproven treatments.

Later in the briefing, Trump turned to Birx and asked if she had any knowledge of heat or light being used as a potential treatment for covid-19.

“Not as a treatment,” Birx answered from her seat. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond.” Then Trump started talking again, cutting her answer short.

Other doctors stepped forward after the briefing to challenge the president, calling his comments “irresponsible,” “extremely dangerous” and “frightening” in interviews with The Post as they rushed to warn people of the dire consequences of ingesting caustic chemicals.

“We’ve heard the president trying to practice medicine for several weeks now, but this is a new low that is outside the realms of common sense or plausibility,” said Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

“I can understand looking to medicines that might have some effect or some sort of studies in a petri dish showing that they might work on a virus,” Marino added. “But talking about putting ultraviolet radiation inside of the human body or putting antiseptic things that are toxic to life inside of living people, it doesn’t make any sense anymore.”

And not only were Trump’s statements baffling, doctors told The Post that his remarks could pose risks to the lives of those who interpret the words as a suggestion to try the unproven treatments themselves.

“People will do extraordinary things if you give them the idea,” said Dara Kass, associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

Even before the president’s musings, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday found U.S. poison control centers were seeing a surge in calls about exposure to cleaners and disinfectants amid the coronavirus outbreak. Between January and March, there were 45,550 calls — a 20.4 percent increase from the same period last year.

The report said that although the data did not include information indicating a “definite link” between exposures and cleaning efforts related to the coronavirus, “there appears to be a clear temporal association with increased use of these products.” Increased use of cleaners and disinfectants is associated with the possibility of improper use, it added.

The CDC called for consumers to “always read and follow directions on the label,” avoid mixing chemical products, ensure adequate ventilation and store chemicals out of the reach of children.

Some doctors likened Trump’s comments on disinfectants to his past remarks about chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, anti-viral drugs that are used to treat malaria and are being tested to determine whether they might assist in treating covid-19. One recent study found the drugs were linked to higher death rates in coronavirus patients, The Post reported, and other clinical trials are still underway. But Trump had touted the drugs as a “game changer” before evidence from early trials had come back, encouraging people to get prescriptions and try the medicines.

But Trump’s Thursday musings have the potential to cause even greater harm, Kass said to The Post.

“The difference between this and the chloroquine is that somebody could go right away to their pantry and start swallowing bleach. They could go to their medicine cabinet and swallow isopropyl alcohol,” Kass said. “A lot of people have that in their homes. There’s an immediate opportunity to react.”

People who ingest such chemicals often die, Kass said. Those who survive usually end up with feeding tubes, a result of their mouth and esophagus being eroded by the cleaning agents.

“It’s horrific,” she said.

By late Thursday, social media was flooded with pointed warnings from doctors, begging people not to attempt self-medication amid the pandemic.

On CNN, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said he believes the president’s comments reflect a question “many Americans are asking,” but cautioned people not to consume disinfectants at home.

“We certainly wouldn’t want, as a physician, someone to take matters into their own hands,” Hahn said. “I think this is something a patient would want to talk to their physician about, and no, I certainly wouldn’t recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also weighed in, warning of potential outcomes including death.

“Well, look I think we need to speak very clearly that there’s no circumstance in which you should take a disinfectant or inject a disinfectant for the treatment of anything, and certainly not for the treatment of coronavirus,” he said Friday on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “There’s absolutely no circumstance in which that’s appropriate, and it can cause death and very adverse outcomes.”

Trump’s remarks even prompted the maker of Lysol and Dettol to urge people not to ingest disinfectant as many essential household cleaning products trended on Twitter well into Friday morning.

“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 Reckitt Benckiser Group said in an email to The Post on Friday. “With all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.”

Some lawmakers also expressed alarm. During an NPR interview on Friday morning, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the president as “a quack medicine salesman.”

“We seem to have a quack medicine salesman on television,” he said. “He’s talking about things like disinfectant in the lungs.”

The senator added: “We need real focus in the White House on what needs to be done. Instead of talking about disinfectant the president should be talking about how he’s going to implement testing, which every expert says is the quickest path to get us moving again.”

Meanwhile, experts also sought to fact-check Trump’s claims about light as a possible treatment.

“No, you cannot inject UV light into your body to cure #COVID19 — neither biology or physics work that way,” tweeted science writer David Robert Grimes, who noted that he earned his PhD in medical ultraviolet radiation.

Still, despite the prolific warnings, doctors told The Post not everyone is going to listen.

“There is an emergency department in America in the week that will probably get a bleach ingestion because of this,” Kass said. “We know that because people are scared and vulnerable, and they’re not going to think it’s that dangerous because they can get it in their house.”


Jennifer Hassan contributed to this report.


Trump Disinfectant Comments Trigger Manufacturers to Warn People Against Injecting Themselves With Cleaning Products

By James Walker – Newsweek

The manufacturer of Dettol and an organization representing cleaning product producers have warned people not to inject disinfectant products into their bodies after President Donald Trump appeared to suggest using that method to treat coronavirus patients at a briefing on Thursday.

Reckitt Benckiser said in a statement published Friday that its products should “under no circumstances” be injected into people’s bodies.

It also warned that its products should only be “used as intended” and advised people to always “read the label and safety information” on its products.

“Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2),” Reckitt Benckiser said in its statement.

“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).

“As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.”

The company issued its statement after Trump asked whether injections of “disinfectant” could be used to treat patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, sparking widespread reaction on social media.

The American Cleaning Institute, an industry organization representing companies in the cleaning product sector, released a statement saying: “Disinfectants are meant to kill germs or viruses on hard surfaces. Under no circumstances should they ever be used on one’s skin, ingested or injected internally.

“We remind everyone to please use all hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting products as directed in order to ensure safe, effective and intended use of those products.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the commander-in-chief said: “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 will be interesting to check that, so you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Newsweek has contacted the White House and disinfectant manufacturers for comment. This article will be updated with any responses.

In a statement released Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “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. Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines.”

Reacting to President Trump’s remarks at yesterday’s briefing, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) tweeted: “Imagine how much more efficient and useful these briefings would be if the actual medical experts didn’t have to keep walking back @realDonaldTrump’s inane ramblings.”

“This is not just insane, it’s also incredibly dangerous,” the British broadcaster Piers Morgan also posted. “If Americans now die from injecting themselves with disinfectant, their deaths will be solely on President @realDonaldTrump. He needs to stop airing these absurd & reckless theories – NOW.”

At the time of writing, the #disinfectant hashtag is also number one in the U.S. Twitter trending charts. 4/24/20


This article was updated to clarify the language in the intro, and include new statements from the White House Press Secretary and American Cleaning Institute. The headline was also been changed to reflect updates to the story.

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