WASHINGTON — Don't inject disinfectants, health officials leapt to warn on Friday, reacting to President Donald Trump's comment that disinfectants perhaps could be injected or ingested to fight COVID-19. His suggestion even prompted the maker of Lysol to warn its product should never be used internally.
“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, 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),” said the statement from the maker of Lysol and Dettol.
The company said it was issuing a statement to combat “recent speculation.”
Trump said Friday that he’d been speaking sarcastically but a transcript of his remarks suggested otherwise and his own government also cautioned the nation against the idea.
The Surgeon General’s office tweeted: “A reminder to all Americans- PLEASE always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one. Your safety is paramount, and doctors and nurses are have [sic] years of training to recommend what’s safe and effective.”
Trump’s comments on disinfectants came after William Bryan, who leads the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke at the Thursday briefing about how researchers are testing the effect of disinfectants on virus-laden saliva and respiratory fluids in the laboratory. They kill the virus very quickly, he said. Bryan said injections weren’t part of the disinfectant research.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday, "I was asking the question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”
In fact, at Trump’s briefing, he was speaking directly to Bryan and Dr. Deborah Birx, his White House coronavirus coordinator, who were seated off-stage to the right of the podium.
This is what Trump said a day earlier in the press briefing room:
“I see 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. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me. So, we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”
During the press conference, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl asked Bryan about Trump’s proposed injections, citing bleach and isopropyl alcohol as examples of common disinfectants used against the coronavirus.
Bryan responded: “No, I’m here to talk about the findings that we had in the study. We won’t do that within that lab and our lab....”
Then, Trump clarified, saying, “It wouldn’t be through injections, you’re talking about almost a cleaning and sterilization of an area. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work, but it certainly has a big effect.”
Pointing to his head, Trump qualified his suggestions: “I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what."
The White House accused the media of taking Trump’s comments out of context before Trump said he was speaking sarcastically.
“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,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines.”
"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.
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. And I think you said you're going to test that, too. Sounds interesting.
I see 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. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me. So, we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s pretty powerful."— President Donald Trump
"This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous, Dr. Vin Gupta said on NBC News.
“It’s a common method that people utilize when they want to kill themselves.”
After receiving more than 100 calls to its hotline, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency tweeted this alert: “This is a reminder that under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route.”
Trump’s comments received widespread mockery online, and other world health officials said they had no knowledge of how such treatments would work and cautioned against introducing disinfectants into the body.
Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who campaigned as a strong Trump supporter in 2018, said, “Sometimes when you’re not clear with how you say things, especially when you are at a high level where people watch, its best probably not to venture into areas that you may not know a lot about."
“He was riffing,” said Jason Miller, who served as communications director to Trump’s 2016 campaign. “He wasn’t, saying, ‘Go and pump Lysol into your veins.’ But when you riff from the podium, it allows other people to define what your intent was.”
Dr. Birx defended Trump as merely thinking aloud about what he was hearing at the briefing.
Trump’s presumptive opponent in November, Joe Biden, tweeted about Trump’s comments, saying the president should focus on ramping up testing and acquiring protective medical gear.
Trump has acknowledged several times that he’s “not a doctor,” but has previously suggested various ideas for fighting the novel coronavirus. He has repeatedly promoted the drug hydroxychloroquine, saying such drugs could be a potential “game-changer” in the fight against the virus.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration warned that people should not take chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 outside of a hospital or formal clinical trial, citing reports of “serious heart rhythm problems.”
Ultraviolet light is used for disinfecting masks and other medical equipment but has not been shown to be safe or effective for use on people to try to eliminate a virus, said Dr. Rais Vohra, an emergency medicine doctor at the Fresno branch of the University of California, San Francisco.
“For inanimate objects, it does make sense,” but exposing yourself to ultraviolet light outside or from other sources can raise the risk of skin cancer, he said.
Actually, the idea to ingest a type of disinfectant has a history:
During the influenza pandemic of 1918 — the year that Trump’s paternal grandfather, Friedrich Trump, died of the flu — doctors gave patients a rash of unusual treatments to treat their symptoms, according to medical journals at the time.
One doctor advocated a boric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) powder be sniffed up the nose to rinse out nasal passages. Others prescribed quinine, strychnine and a poisonous garden plant called Digitalis to help circulation, and drugs derived from iodine for “internal disinfection,” according to author Laura Spinney, who wrote a 2017 book on the pandemic entitled “Pale Rider, The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World.”
The president has often talked up prospects for new therapies and has offered rosy timelines for the development of a vaccine as he encourages states to move to reopen their economies.
On Thursday, the White House also pitched “emerging” research on the benefits of sunlight and humidity in diminishing the threat of the virus.
Past studies have not found good evidence that the warmer temperatures and higher humidity of spring and summer will help tamp down the spread of the virus.
But Bryan said at a White House briefing Thursday that there are “emerging results” from new research that suggest solar light has a powerful effect in killing the virus on surfaces and in the air. He said scientists have seen a similar effect from higher temperatures and humidity. A biocontainment lab in Maryland has been conducting testing on the virus since February, Bryan said.
“The virus is dying at a much more rapid pace just from exposure to higher temperatures and just from exposure to humidity,” Bryan said. He stressed that the emerging results of the light and heat studies do not replace social distancing recommendations.
Earlier in the month, scientific advisers told the White House there’s no good evidence yet that the heat and humidity of summer will rein in the virus without continued public health measures.
Researchers convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine analyzed studies done so far to test virus survival under different laboratory conditions as well as tracking where and how COVID-19 has spread so far.
“Given that countries currently in ‘summer’ climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed,” the researchers wrote earlier in April in response to questions from the White House Office of Science and Technology.
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In addition, the report cited the global lack of immunity to the new virus and concluded, “If there is an effect of temperature and humidity on transmission, it may not be as apparent as with other respiratory viruses for which there is at least some preexisting partial immunity.”
The report noted that during 10 previous flu pandemics, regardless of what season they started, all had a peak second wave about six months after the virus first emerged.
In March, Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief. said, “We have to assume that the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread, and it’s a false hope to say yes, it will just disappear in the summertime like influenza.”
“Deborah, have you ever heard of that?” Trump asked Dr. Birx at the Thursday press conference. “The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?”
“Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly, fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond," Birx said. "But not as — I’ve not seen heat.”
“I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?” Trump replied.
Chicago Tribune staff contributed