Video Reckitt Benckiser Plc, the British maker of disinfectants Lysol and Dettol, had to hastily issue a statement this morning telling people not to ingest or inject their cleaning products in the hopes of fending off coronavirus.
This came just hours after the world watched slack-jawed as the President of the United States appeared to propose injecting disinfectant into the human body as a possible treatment for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
At the White House COVID-19 task force briefing last night, Donald Trump cited government research that suggested exposure to sunlight and heat appeared to weaken the 2019 coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease "at a much more rapid pace."
It was also said that bleach had been shown to kill the virus in saliva and respiratory fluids (obviously referring to those fluids after people have coughed or spat them out onto a surface) in five minutes or less, and that isopropyl alcohol could do it even faster.
Additionally, there was talk of use of the spectrum of ultra-violet light called UVC – the naturally occurring stuff is mostly filtered out by the ozone but you can artificially produce it with a lamp – which has been known to stomp genetic material on surfaces since its discovery in 1878.
It's effective against another coronavirus, SARS, and is being used in the fight against COVID-19 in China to sterilise surfaces. But genetic material – as well as microorganisms and viruses – also includes our bodies, and humans really shouldn't be exposed to it.
Bleach and alcohol are also well-known methods of killing pathogens so, sure, you might safely assume that both could disinfect a surface where coronavirus may dwell. Key word: surface, not internally ‒ please don't ingest or inject bleach or isopropyl alcohol. The caveat of "in saliva" in the government research appears to have thrown Trump for a loop – because he totally misinterpreted what these findings indicated.
As though he had only half-listened to the prior presentation by Homeland Security undersecretary Bill Bryan while browsing on his phone, Trump told the conference in his trademark fashion:
So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous ultra-violet or just very powerful light, and I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you are going to test it. And then I said, supposing you bring the light inside the body which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you are going to test that too. Sounds interesting. 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, 'cos you see it gets in the lung and does a tremendous number of… so it will be interesting to check that so you're going to have to use medical doctors but it sounds interesting to me.
He added: "I'm not a doctor. But I'm, like, a person that has a good you-know-what," while touching his head.
The person he is addressing offscreen is Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Below she listens to The Donald's screed, and if you watch carefully, you can pinpoint the exact moment that the hope inside her is snuffed out.
Take Camera 2 pic.twitter.com/mV9oQAnExm— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) April 24, 2020
Someone really ought to tack the Curb Your Enthusiasm credits on to the end of that clip.
Asking Birx if she had heard of using "the heat and the light" to treat coronavirus, she mumbled: "Not as a treatment. 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."
The response from the medical community has been predictable. John Balmes, a pulmonologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, told Bloomberg: "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 fear seems to be that someone might take the politician's comments and do something dangerously stupid. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only this week reported that the "daily number of calls to poison centers increased sharply at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants."
Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration has had to warn Americans off drinking poison since last year because a group calling itself the "Genesis II Church of Health and Healing" has been flogging a bleach-based "miracle cure" for "cancer, HIV/Aids and malaria as well as autism".
Indeed, it looks like the Grim Reaper has his work cut out amid this crisis. Daniel Uhlfelder, a lawyer famed for opposing privatisation of Florida beaches, has said that from 1 May he will tour the state's coastline dressed as the personification of death to encourage people to stay indoors and observe social distancing.
Many of you have asked if I am willing to travel around Florida wearing Grim Reaper attire to the beaches and other areas of the state opening up prematurely. The answer is absolutely yes. Beginning May 1 we will hit the road here in state. Please retweet and spread the word. pic.twitter.com/UO7QKg161n— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) April 22, 2020
We don't know about you, but we're ready for our pre-weekend beer. More than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19 this year in the US alone. ®