Health and Science

Experts fire back after Trump asks whether injecting disinfectant can fight coronavirus

Key Points
  • Trump's comments came after Homeland Security official Bill Bryan presented new findings that showed the ability of disinfectants to kill the coronavirus on surfaces. 
  • Bryan said bleach will kill the virus in five minutes when applied to surfaces and isopropyl alcohol kills the virus in 30 seconds.
  • The consumption or injection of disinfectants is not only unproven to be effective in treating Covid-19, but it can lead to death, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.
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President Trump asks about using ultraviolet light and injecting disinfectants to treat coronavirus

The maker of Lysol and former head of the Food and Drug Administration strongly warned on Friday against consuming or injecting disinfectants into the body after President Donald Trump publicly asked whether doing so can be used to treat Covid-19.

Consuming disinfectants can be fatal, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC, adding that there's no "kernel of credibility or truth to doing something like ingesting bleach or injecting bleach as a treatment for anything."

Trump's comments came after Homeland Security official Bill Bryan presented new findings that showed the ability of disinfectants to kill the coronavirus on surfaces. Bryan said bleach will kill the virus in five minutes when applied to surfaces and isopropyl alcohol kills the virus in 30 seconds.

"I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute. One minute," Trump said Thursday evening at a nationally televised White House press briefing. "Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."

The White House said Friday that media reports on Trump's comments were out of context. Trump said later Friday the comment was "sarcastic."  

Reckitt Benckiser, the U.K.-based manufacturer of Lysol and other household cleaning products, said in a statement that its products "should only be used as intended" and "under no circumstance" should the products be consumed by people.

"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)," RB said in a statement. "As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines."

Family Dollar Store, anti-bacterial wipes and cleaning products.
Jeff Greenberg | Getty Images

The company added that it has a "responsibility in providing consumers with access to accurate, up-to-date information as advised by leading public health experts."

The consumption of bleach and isopropyl alcohol can lead to kidney failure and liver failure among other life-threatening ailments, according to Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at University Hospitals in Cleveland. 

"As a toxicologist, I see people all the time who have had an adverse effect of consuming these kinds of products," Marino told CNBC, adding that patients have died after coming into the emergency room due to consuming strong disinfectants. "These should not be consumed in any way."

Marino said he doesn't know any safe way to put those chemical into a human being.

"The president has been giving medical advice over the past few weeks that is not sound medical advice and could seriously harm people," he added. "I am certain now that somewhere, someone will try to disinfect themselves, if they haven't already, and I'm sure they'll wind up in the emergency room."

Gottlieb agreed that the consumption or injection of disinfectants is not only unproven to be effective in treating Covid-19, but it can lead to death.

"There's no circumstance under which you should take a disinfectant or inject a disinfectant for the treatment of anything and certainly not for the treatment of coronavirus," Trump's former FDA commissioner said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "There's absolutely no circumstance under which that's appropriate and it can cause death and very adverse outcomes."

Trump's comments came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report
noting a 20% increase in U.S. poison center calls over the past three months as more Americans suffered from potentially toxic exposure to chemicals in cleaning and disinfectant products. Fears over getting the coronavirus might have helped drive.

Poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants from January through March, a 20.4% increase from a year ago and a 16.4% increase from the same three months in 2018, according to the CDC data. The CDC recommends that users read and follow directions on the label, avoid mixing chemical products, wear eye and skin protection, ensure adequate ventilation and store chemicals out of the reach of children.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the media was "irresponsibly" taking Trump's comments out of context with "negative headlines."

"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," she said in a statement Friday. 

However, after hearing Trump tout the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a "game changer" in treatment of the coronavirus, a man in Arizona died from consuming chloroquine phosphate, NBC News reported last month.

No drug is clinically proven to be effective against the coronavirus, but dozens are in trials around the world. Clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine have shown "very mixed" results, according to Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina. 

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Friday against taking hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital or formal clinical trial after "serious" poisoning and deaths were reported. Researchers said Friday they had to cut short a study testing chloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19 after some patients developed irregular heart rates and nearly two dozen of them died after taking doses of the drug daily.

Other drugs, including Gilead's remdesivir have shown promise, Gottlieb said, but he added that "there is no home run here." He said no drug should be used outside of protocol, adding that he is hopeful there will be a proven drug to treat Covid-19 by the fall.

"We're going to have safe and effective drugs for coronavirus, I believe," he said. "But there's no product right now that's proven to be safe and effective against the coronavirus and there's really no product that's shown enough promise that I think you'd want to use it outside the clinical trials."

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Do not use disinfectant to treat coronavirus, says former FDA chief Gottlieb