- President Trump suggested April 23 that disinfectants might be used “by injection” in the body as “a cleaning” to treat COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.
- The comment delighted fringe movement activists who’ve been promoting drinking bleach to cure conditions like autism, and infuriated medical professionals, who’ve long known the solution can be deadly.
- Even bleach companies are begging people not to drink, inject, or otherwise ingest their products.
- Experts say the very ingredients that make bleach so effective at killing viruses on surfaces is what makes them toxic to the human body and have sent an increasing number of people to the ER with accidental poisonings.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When President Trump heard about the power of heat, ultraviolet light, and bleach to kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces during a White House coronavirus press briefing April 23, he took the information an unscientific leap further.
On air, he rhetorically asked whether a disinfectant could be used “by injection inside” the body to clean it, and suggested the issue be studied.
The statement delighted a fringe movement that’s been promoting potentially deadly cures like consuming bleach for conditions like autism, and alarmed medical professionals, who quickly shot the suggestion down as a well-known way to send yourself to the emergency room if you make it that far.
“This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous,” Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and MSNBC commentator, told NBC News.
Even the manufacturer of disinfectants including Dettol and Lysol quickly released a statement urging people not to inject themselves with disinfectant to try to kill the coronavirus.
“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),” Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Dettol, Lysol, and Harpic, said in the statement.
Here’s everything we know about how bleach affects the body, the specific ways bleach can be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and the dangerous theories Trump, likely unknowingly, fuelled with his suggestion.
Conspiracy theorists have already been dangerously promoting bleach as cure for coronavirus
President Trump’s comments were a win for conspiracy theorists and members of dangerous fringe movements who’ve been claiming that a dangerous bleach cocktail can cure malaria, cancer, the flu, autism, and, most recently, the novel coronavirus
The “miracle mineral solution,” as it’s known online (MMS for short), is a solution of 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water. It’s sold online for around $US28 for a 4-ounce bottle. Consumers are instructed to “activate” the product by adding citric acid like lemon or lime juice (which are sometimes sold separately for an additional fee).
Proponents, including QAnon supporters, falsely claim it works because it contains compounds that are supposedly deadly to pathogens, but harmless to healthy tissue.
But the FDA has warned that, not only is there no known cure for the coronavirus, but the industrial bleach solution could have grave consequences, such as liver failure and extremely low blood pressure.
Chris Cuomo’s wife, founder of an alternative wellness site, has touted bleach in bathwater
Bleach has also made more mild, but still risky, rounds among wellness influencers including Cristina Cuomo, the wife of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and founder of the publication The Purist.
After getting sick with COVID-19, she wrote about her remedies on her site, including that she adds “½ cup of Clorox to my bathwater to combat the radiation and metals in my system and oxygenate it.”
But skin isn’t among the surfaces that bleach, a corrosive chemical, is great at cleaning. While it is sometimes recommended for skin conditions like eczema they should be short, used sparingly, and discussed with a doctor first. Otherwise, it can cause an unpleasant burning sensation and irritation – at best.
Inhaling the fumes can cause damage to your respiratory system, which is last thing you want when you’re fighting off a virus. Accidentally ingesting it could cause burns to your esophagus or stomach, internal organ damage, or even death.
Since the coronavirus has become widespread, there’s been a coinciding spike in accidental poisonings attributed to bleach products, according to the CDC. Some of these have resulted in hospitalizations.
Bleach is an effective tool destroy coronavirus droplets on surfaces
The coronavirus is particularly susceptible to cleaning products since it’s an enveloped virus, which means it is wrapped in a lipid layer from the infected host cell.
While that protective layer is supposed to help the virus survive, it is easily compromised by disinfectants, making this type of virus much easier to kill than non-enveloped varieties such as the norovirus, Dr. Saskia Popescu, a senior infection prevention epidemiologist who works at a Phoenix-based healthcare system, previously told Business Insider.
“I mean a bleach-based disinfectant, 100%, is going to kill it very, very easily,” Popescu said. “Bleach kills everything.”
This can be helpful for areas that come into contact with a lot of germs, such as certain surfaces at hospitals and schools, as well as door handles, cell phones, and similar objects, she added.
But the ingredients that make disinfectants so effective on surfaces are what make them toxic to the human body
Bleach’s effectiveness against viral particles on surfaces doesn’t mean it’s helpful for the human body. Quite the contrary.
“Chlorine bleach and other disinfectants should never be ingested or injected into the body to treat infections such as COVID-19,” according to a statement released April 24 by the American Chemistry Council. “Such a practice could be lethal or cause serious bodily harm.”
“The idea that is introducing something that is a known toxin into the body, isopropyl alcohol, disinfectants – those are things that we always worry that kids swallow accidentally, or that people who are intentionally trying to hurt themselves will swallow accidentally,” Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency-room doctor at Oregon Health & Science University said on MSNBC.
The dangers of intentionally swallowing cleaning products became apparent in early 2018, when people ate laundry detergent pods as part of the “Tide Pod Challenge” and poisoned themselves.
The phenomenon led the American Association of Poison Control Centres to issue an alert, saying it received more calls about people being exposed to laundry pods in the first two weeks of 2018 than it did in all of 2016.
In the five years prior, eight people died from eating laundry detergent pods, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
QUINN THE QUARANTINE FOX: Cleaning products are poisonous, America! Make sure you keep those cleaning products in their original bottles and locked up out of sight and out of reach of kids! pic.twitter.com/yKdZAfO2Rz
— US Consumer Product Safety Commission (@USCPSC) April 24, 2020
People are intensively cleaning their homes during the pandemic – leading to a sharp rise in accidental poisonings
There’s even been a rise in poisonings from household cleaners since March, presumably because people are accidentally ingesting the chemicals while trying to keep their homes clean from the coronavirus.
A total of 45,550 cases of poisoning related to cleaning and disinfectants were reported from January to March, with a large spike in daily calls at the beginning of March, according to an April 20 report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common source of accidental poisoning was disinfectant, primarily bleach.
In one case report, a woman was hospitalized after attempting to wash her produce items in a bleach solution after grocery shopping. She filled the sink with 10% bleach, hot water, and vinegar to soak the produce, and shortly after noticed a “chlorine” smell, and began to have trouble breathing. She called an ambulance and was hospitalized, treated with oxygen, and sent home after a few hours.
Inhalation was the most common source of poisoning, according to the report – cases of accidental inhalation increased 100% from last year.
Experts say to safely clean your home, not your body, with disinfectants, only use them when regular soap and water won’t do and be sure to use them in a well-ventilated area to prevent inhalation. Follow all the instructions on the label, including diluting products when necessary.
Finally, store your cleaning products in a secure place when they’re not in use, and keep them in their original bottles to prevent accidental exposure.