UK scientists have reacted to controversial comments by Donald Trump referring to people injecting themselves with disinfectant to combat coronavirus.
The US President made his comments after William Bryan, of the Department of Homeland Security science and technology unit, discussed ‘emerging’ research about the effects of sunlight and humidity on COVID-19.
After his comments, Trump noted that researchers were looking at the effects of disinfectants on coronavirus and wondered aloud if they could be injected into people, saying the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that”.
Bryan said health officials were not considering such treatment but scientists have warned people how dangerous injecting oneself with disinfectant could be.
Professor Rob Chilcott, Professor of Toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “Injecting bleach or disinfectant at the dose required to neutralise viruses in the circulating blood would likely result in significant, irreversible harm and probably a very unpleasant death.
“It would not have much effect on viral particles within the cells and so, in that regard, would be rather pointless. Such an act of stupidity would certainly qualify for a Darwin Award!”
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Dr Wayne Carter, Associate Professor (Toxicology Lead) at the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, added: “Disinfectants and bleach are strong oxidising agents, useful to kill bacteria or viruses when they are deposited on surfaces, but these agents should not be ingested or injected.
“These agents can cause severe tissue burns and blood vessel damage. As with other potentially poisonous agents, it is the dose (amount taken into the body) that makes the poison, but ultimately, under no circumstances should members of the public ingest or inject disinfectants or bleach.”
But some experts pointed out that Bryan’s comments were referring to the effects of UV light and disinfectant on environmental surfaces rather than people and it was important to recognise the difference.
Professor Crispin Halsall, Environmental Chemist at Lancaster University, said: “I suspect Mr Bryan was referring to the work of scientists that examined the effects of solar UV light and higher temperatures on deactivating the virus present on environmental surfaces (not the human body!).
“It is vital that the general public DO NOT interpret this news as a green light to wash with, ingest or inject detergent or bleach, or expose themselves to harmful UV radiation.”
Dr Penny Ward, Visiting Professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London and the Chair of the Education and Standards Committee of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said: “UV irradiation and high heat are known to kill virus particles on surfaces and coronavirus particles are no exception to this general rule.
“Similarly evidence shows that bleach in an appropriate concentration will also clear viruses and bacterial contamination of surfaces.
“These principles are applied for cleaning of contaminated rooms, and to maintain hygiene and prevent fomite transmission of infection in public areas.
“Neither sitting in the sun, nor heating will kill a virus replicating in an individual patients internal organs. Drinking bleach kills. Injecting bleach kills faster. Don’t do either!”
Professor Graham McGeown, Reader in Physiology at Queen's University Belfast, said: “The experiments that were carried out were looking at how the virus can best be killed on surfaces and materials, presumably with a view to reduce spread via indirect contact.
“These results cannot, and were never intended to be applied to the problem of treating the virus in humans.”
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