There is no evidence that sunlight can cure coronavirus on the human body. Same for disinfectant and bleach. So, do not drink bleach. Do not inject disinfectant. And do not believe there is some cure for coronavirus coming from ultraviolet light.
During Thursday’s White House coronavirus briefing, a science administrator, Wiliam N. Bryan, said the government had tested how sunlight and disinfectants like bleach and alcohol can quickly kill Covid-19 on surfaces.
Hearing that, President Trump returned to the lectern. He speculated about injecting a disinfectant into a human body. He also wondered aloud whether hitting someone with a “tremendous” beam of light would kill the virus.
On Friday, Mr. Trump said he did not mean the suggestions. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” he said.
Sarcastic or not, both of the president’s claims are without scientific basis. Killing coronavirus on inert surfaces and within living human bodies should be treated differently.
“It’s just frightening that we have to dispel these sorts of things,” said Dr. Dean Winslow, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who specializes in infectious disease and hospital medicine.
Sunlight is not a treatment
When the president turned to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, she replied that she had not heard of sunlight as an effective treatment for coronavirus.
A study that went online Wednesday suggested that ultraviolet light was associated with lower growth rates of the virus. The study, done by ecological modelers at the University of Connecticut, has not yet been peer-reviewed. Ultraviolet light has also been shown to kill the virus on surfaces.
But for the human body, experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can damage DNA and turn healthy human cells cancerous.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea, shall we say,” Dr. David Brenner, the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center.
Ultraviolet radiation can also lower the body’s defenses and alter immune system functions, according to Dr. Justin Ko, a clinical associate professor in dermatology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Because of the shortage of protective equipment, some medical centers have been using U.V. light to decontaminate masks for reuse. But those germicidal lamps could be a health hazard if used on people.
Some dermatologic conditions, like psoriasis or some lymphomas, can be treated with U.V. light. But for the most part, other diseases do not respond in the same way.
“It’s just preposterous to think U.V. light would treat a respiratory illness,” Dr. Winslow said.
Harmful if swallowed
On the label of most disinfectants, there’s a version of this message: “Keep out of reach of children. Danger. Corrosive. Harmful if swallowed.”
That warning is there for a reason. If used improperly, household disinfectants can kill you or cause irreversible damage.
At the Thursday briefing, Mr. Trump suggested his staff “check’’ the medical uses of such household disinfectants, asking “is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?”
There is, in fact, no way to do something like that. At least not safely.
“Bleach, obviously, and other types of disinfectants, are made for surfaces,” Dr. Scott Schaeffer, the managing director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information. “They are not made for the human body.”
Bleach is dangerous because it is corrosive: It can destroy human tissue. If injected, Dr. Schaeffer said he would “anticipate significant burns.”
On Friday, Reckitt Benckiser, the United Kingdom-based maker of Lysol, warned customers against ingesting its products. “Under no circumstance,” the company said, adding bold face to the three words, “should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).” The statement did not refer to the president by name, but cited “recent speculation and social media activity.”
“An accidental exposure is problematic enough,” said Dr. Carol DesLauriers, the assistant vice president of the Illinois Poison Center, the oldest poison center in the country, speaking of household cleaners. “But you can really do damage to your skin, your stomach and your lungs if you were to use these inappropriately.”
Covid-19 is “a virus that is harmful to your lungs,” continued Dr. DesLauriers, who is a board-certified toxicologist. “You don’t want to make that worse by causing chemical irritation or injury to your lungs.”
Already, accidents with household cleaning products appear to have sharply increased in recent weeks, according to doctors who monitor activity at poison call centers. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarming trend of growing calls to poison control centers, and an increase in accidental exposures to household cleaners and disinfectants. This rise does seem to be attributed to the increased use of disinfectant products in the home as people try to adhere to the guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
This would not be the first time that household cleaning products had endangered Americans. Two years ago, the infamous “Tide Pod challenge” was a brief viral trend in which teenagers bit down on the brightly colored detergent packets, which endangered many.
Again, do not drink or ingest bleach. Disinfectants don’t kill only the virus. They may kill you, too. If you come across someone who has ingested or injected household disinfectants, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers: (800) 222-1222. It’s free, and staffed 24 hours.