CORONAVIRUS MISINFORMATION: Unpacking Trump’s claims on disinfectant and ultraviolet light

On April 23, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump, in a press briefing at the White House, made two alarming claims about potential cures to COVID-19. 

Fact-checks by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reveal that this is not the first time the US president has made controversial and dangerous statements about the virus.

In the previous month, Trump praised the anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, as a treatment for Coronavirus infection. 

Unfortunately, after the President validated the drug, Nigeria recorded multiple cases of Chloroquine poisoning, as people consumed the drug believing it would protect them from COVID-19. 

Here are two new false claims the US president has made.

Claim 1

“I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in 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.” – Donald Trump, U.S. President, White House, 23 April 2020

With this claim it appears that the US President believes that because disinfectants could destroy the virus outside the body, they could have the same effect inside the body.

CDD fact-checks show that this line of reasoning is faulty at its best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Disinfectants are designed to be used on hard surfaces and not within the sensitive interiors of the human body. 

Also, warnings by manufacturers of these products clearly state that ingesting disinfectant puts one at risk of poisoning and even death. 

This claim by Donald Trump has drawn responses from eminent experts around the world.

For instance, in a CNN report, the US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr Stephen Hahn, said he would not encourage the ingestion of disinfectant for any reason. 

Hahn who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force said: “I certainly wouldn’t recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.”

Also, Robert Reich, a professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said that Trump’s briefings on the novel virus are becoming dangerous.

Reich in a tweet said: “Trump’s briefings are actively endangering the public’s health. Boycott the propaganda. Listen to the experts. And please don’t drink disinfectant.”

Interestingly, even manufacturers of disinfectants have stepped in with Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Lysol and Dettol countering the US President’s claim.

RB in a statement warned that: “Under no circumstanceshould 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”.

Claim 2

“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… So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute – that’s pretty powerful.” – Donald Trump, U.S. President, White House, 23 April 2020

Trump’s second striking claim is about the therapeutic effects of light and heat, specifically referencing ultraviolet (UV) light in destroying the deadly virus.

This was addressed in a statement by the WHO which counters multiple myths and warns people not to sterilise their hands with UV light, since radiation can cause skin irritation.

Furthermore, in a conversation with CDD fact-checkers, the head of the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN), Dr Patrick Dakum, explained that the virus that causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours in aerosols and on surfaces.

Dakum said in a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. 

“There is no evidence that sunlight kills the new coronavirus,” the virologist told CDD fact-checkers.

He explained further that, UV-light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength from 10 nm (with a corresponding frequency of approximately 30 PHz) to 400 nm (750 THz), shorter than that of visible light but longer than X-rays. 

Increasing UV wavelength can kill the coronavirus on the surface but the frequency is different in sunlight.

Also, UV radiation is present in sunlight and constitutes about 10% of the total electromagnetic radiation output from the Sun.

NIGERIAN CONTEXT

With each passing moment, it becomes abundantly clear that health messaging from Donald Trump will need to be approached more critically, and that listeners should be aware of the guidance of experts and follow expert advice. 

In the hours following his press conference, New York City recorded a spike in calls from its poison control centre where callers relayed fears of overexposure to household cleaners. 

The danger in the Nigerian context is the propensity for dangerous and drastic behaviour such as the ingestion of disinfectants such as Dettol.

Therefore, it is necessary to provide a counterpoint where safe health information is made readily available to Nigerians.

CONCLUSION

Claims by the US President, Donald Trump, that ingestion of disinfectants and exposure to UV-lights can destroy the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is false.

The CDD urges the general public never to ingest disinfectant or expose themselves to UV-light in a bid to destroy the virus.

You can also forward suspicious messages for verification at +2349062910568 or contact us on twitter: @CDDWestAfrica.