I noted over a month ago that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the lives of so many people all over the world with severe illness and death, stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19), and economic devastation, with massive job losses, business closures, and worse, has been a golden opportunity for quackery. This is not surprising, as any new disease that is killing many thousands of people will always be a magnet for quacks. Even if the overall case fatality rate turns out to be a lot lower than originally estimated, when hundreds of millions are infected, hundreds of thousands to millions of people can die, and when there are no effective disease-specific treatments for such a disease the quacks run wild. That’s why we have antivaxxers claiming that the influenza vaccine increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 (a conspiracy theory that appeared very early in the pandemic, as did the false claim that SARS-CoV-2 arose as a result of a failed SARS vaccine or as a failed attempt to make an HIV vaccine) while anti-GMO cranks are blaming glyphosate and 5G cranks blame—surprise! surprise!—the rollout of 5G networks. Meanwhile, quacks are promoting herbal “cures,” while a “brave maverick scientist” named Didier Raoult is promoting an unproven drug combination, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, as a “silver bullet” treatment for COVID-19 based on the thinnest of evidence, aided and abetted by President Trump, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and the whole Fox News propaganda machine, led by Laura Ingraham. Last night, President Trump was at it again. In an appearance even more unhinged than his usual appearances on the nightly COVID Clown Show, he, well, just look at the video and news story for yourself:
Here’s part of the relevant passage:
President Trump has long pinned his hopes on the powers of sunlight to defeat the Covid-19 virus. On Thursday, he returned to that theme at the daily White House coronavirus briefing, bringing in a top administration scientist to back up his assertions and eagerly theorizing — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.
After the scientist, William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told the briefing that the government had tested how sunlight and disinfectants — including bleach and alcohol — can kill the coronavirus on surfaces in as little as 30 seconds, an excited Mr. Trump returned to the lectern.
“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”
Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.
“And then I see the 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?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
This led to the official Twitter account of the Washington Military Department and its Emergency Management Division to Tweet:
After which hashtags like #DontDrinkBleach started trending, with Tweets like this:
And this video, showing Dr. Deborah Birx’s clearly failing effort to hide the dismay on her face as President Trump opined on disinfectants and light:
Meanwhile, another hashtag started trending, #TidePodPresident:
I will admit to some amusement with the Tide Pod President moniker.
Jokes on Twitter from Twitter denizens being Twitter denizens aside, though, how ignorant do you have to be not to know that most chemicals and interventions that work externally (e.g., disinfectants, light, bleach, soap) to inactivate coronavirus will not work taken internally. It’s the same sort of easy mistake that drives supporters of colloidal silver. As I’ve discussed many times before, colloidal silver is an effective topical antibiotic. It’s in a variety of topical agents used to treat burns (e.g., Silvadene, or silver sulfadiazine) and open wounds. Not only doesn’t colloidal silver work when taken internally because it’s not possible to get a therapeutic blood level of silver without significant toxicity, but long term ingestion of colloidal silver can turn your skin blue, a condition known as argyria. There are, of course, many varieties of colloidal silver sold by quacks, and none of them work when taken internally.
More education on this simple point on Twitter:
Then there’s bleach or disinfectant. One thing that really worries me about President Trump’s mention of bleach and disinfectant “injected” or otherwise somehow administered internally is the likelihood that the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) quacks will seize on it as a reason to start treating COVID-19 with MMS. As I’ve discussed time and time again, MMS is in reality a chemical used as an industrial bleach and disinfectant, as well as in other industrial processes. Specifically, it is a solution of 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water that generates chlorine dioxide when diluted with citric acid-containing or other acid-containing foods, as instructed. Chlorine dioxide is used for water purification that was somehow adopted by the founder of Genesis II Church, Jim Humble, and touted as a miracle cure for just about everything. Antivaxxers and autism quacks, such as Kerri Rivera, have promoted it as a cure (or at least a treatment) for autism, as have believers on secret Facebook groups. There is no currently known valid medical reason to administer this chemical to anyone to treat anything, much less cancer, autism, AIDS, or other medical conditions. None of this is (or should be) in serious dispute from a strictly scientific, medical, or ethical standpoint.
Yes, I know that President Trump didn’t specifically mention MMS, but he did mention bleach. I also realize that MMS quacks desperately deny that MMS is, in fact, a bleach, but who said that quacks are consistent? These same quacks also claim that the GI distress that children experience after ingesting bleach are experiencing a “healing crisis” and that the chunks of “mucus” coming out of the rectums of children treated with MMS enemas is are “parasites” when any general surgeon, gastroenterologist, or, hell, almost any doctor can tell you that these pieces of “mucus” are in reality pieces of colon mucosa (the layer of cells lining the inside of the colon) that are sloughing because of the toxic and irritating effect of repeated friggin’ bleach enemas!
Indeed, quacks, seeking to sell their nostrums to those susceptible to believing they might work, are likely to promote MMS based on President Trump’s remarks. Oh, wait¡ They already have:
Advocates of a toxic bleach “miracle cure” are claiming vindication after President Donald Trump at a press briefing suggested that injecting disinfectant could cure the novel coronavirus.
Jordan Sather, by the way in case you’re not familiar with him, is a big promoter of the utterly loony QAnon conspiracy theory. He’s not alone, either:
Business Insider found scores of other accounts on Twitter claiming that Trump’s remarks were evidence that bleach can heal the disease.
Myles Power, a scientist who has debunked claims by MMS advocates and other medical misinformation, told Business Insider that the remarks would empower the movement.
“Mr Trump’s recent off-the-cuff comments about injecting disinfectant might sound ridiculous but it will be used as an endorsement by these bleach pushers who in the past have injected people with their corrosive elixir,” Power said.
“For a world leader at the height of a pandemic to say something so utterly ridiculous is not only irresponsible it’s also potentially lethal.”
Of course, the Genesis II Church had already been selling MMS for COVID-19 even before President Trump’s latest COVID Clown Show. Two weeks ago, the FDA issued a warning for chlorine dioxide products claiming to treat COVID-19, and last week, a federal court issued a temporary injunction ordering the group to stop selling MMS to treat coronavirus. With this background, I hope you can see just how potentially dangerous Trump’s scientifically ignorant ramblings are.
It’s not just MMS, either. Hydrogen peroxide is another “disinfectant” that could inactivate coronavirus on surfaces. Well, reason quacks, if peroxide can inactivate coronavirus on surfaces, surely it can inactivate the virus on the “surfaces” of your lungs and respiratory tract, right? What could possibly go wrong? Just look at this post at über-quack Joe Mercola’s blog and his rationale for using hydrogen peroxide:
Your immune cells actually produce hydrogen peroxide. This is in part how your immune system kills cells that have been infected with a virus. By killing the infected cell, viral reproduction is stopped. So, hydrogen peroxide therapy is in essence only aiding your immune cells to perform their natural function more effectively.
It is indeed true that some immune cells use hydrogen peroxide to kill cells infected with virus. But guess what? There’s a huge difference between immune cells generating small amounts of peroxide that can produce locally high concentrations sufficient to kill infected cells and either injecting or inhaling nebulizer hydrogen peroxide, the latter of which Trump’s ignorantly speculated about. Hilariously, Mercola lists a bunch of studies that demonstrate that nebulized hydrogen peroxide can kill viruses on surfaces and thereby disinfect them. That’s no big surprise. It’s a strong oxidizing agent.
Now get a load of this:
The therapy touted by Farr involved administering hydrogen peroxide intravenously. This, however, puts the therapy out of reach for most who want a quick and easy remedy to use at home. A far more inexpensive and convenient alternative is to inhale the hydrogen peroxide mist, using a nebulizer — a small, handheld device that converts liquid into a very fine mist.
The microscopic mist, similar to smoke or vapor, can be comfortably inhaled deep into your nostrils, sinuses and lungs. While nebulizers have routinely been used by asthmatics to deliver medication into their lungs, this delivery system affects not only the lungs but your entire body.
As noted in the 2002 review article,17 “Pulmonary Drug Delivery Systems: Recent Developments and Prospects,” “Targeting drug delivery into the lungs has become one of the most important aspects of systemic … drug delivery systems.”
Yes, patients with asthma have used nebulizers to deliver medicine to the bloodstream for several decades. There’s a difference between that and inhaling potential irritants. Certain quacks who recommend nebulized peroxide suggest 3% peroxide, which is the usual strength of hydrogen peroxide solutions sold at the drug store claim that it’s a “completely nontoxic therapy” that “can be administered as often as desired.” Mercola quotes a fellow qucak named Dr. Thomas E. Levy, who claims:
If daily prevention is not a practical option, the effectiveness of this treatment is optimized when somebody sneezes in your face or you finally get off of the plane after a trans-Atlantic flight. Don’t wait for initial symptoms. Just nebulize at your first opportunity.”
There is no evidence that inhaled hydrogen peroxide either treats or cures COVID-19, and nebulized mists of it are corrosive and can irritate and damage the mucus membranes and the airways, something that’s definitely not a good idea to subject the lungs to if you have COVID-19. I also note that Dr. Levy has been inducted into the Orthomolecular Hall of Fame. That’s about as good an indication of a quack as a doctor who embraces homeopathy, in my book. Unsurprisingly, he’s one of the quacks who believes that high dose vitamin C is good for everything.
I also worry about yet another form of quackery. Remember how Trump invoked ultraviolet (UV) light, which, as is the case for many viruses, can inactivate SARS-CoV-2? Of course, I suppose that some of the more ignorant might think that this means that tanning beds could be a treatment for COVID-19, but UV radiation doesn’t penetrate the skin past the dermis, the layer of the skin beneath the epidermis, which is the skin surface layer. I also note that COVID-19 doesn’t infect skin cells. That’s why wearing gloves is useless to protect yourself if you touch something with SARS-CoV-2 on it and then touch parts of your face where the virus can gain entry to your respiratory tract. In fact, wearing gloves might even be worse than no gloves, because who washes their gloved hands? Unless you change gloves frequently and never touch your face while wearing them, you might as well just wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.
But I digress.
Let’s look at Trump’s remarks on light a bit more. Do you remember Trump’s bit about getting the “light inside”? Although, as mentioned above, UV light doesn’t penetrate past the skin, when I first heard his remark I could nonetheless see one last form of quackery whose proponents will likely leap at Trump’s remarks. Is anyone familiar with “blood irradiation”? Basically UV blood irradiation involves pumping a patient’s blood through a device that subjects it to UV irradiation and then infusing the irradiated blood back into the patient’s body. Well, the quacks are way ahead of you, proposing UV blood irradiation as a cure or treatment for COVID-19. Hilariously, Redstate.org used the existence of UV blood irradiation as a defense of Trump’s remarks:
Despite the blue checks getting gleeful over how stupid Trump is, there are some facts we should get straight. We know that we can use UV light as a way to kill various types of bacteria and foreign bodies already. The practice is called “ultraviolet blood irradiation” and was used as a cure for many different things until the invention of antibiotics. The practice was nicknamed “the cure that time forgot.”
I laughed out loud when I read this article. There’s a reason that UV blood irradiation is a treatment “that time forgot.” It’s been forgotten because it doesn’t work. Trump supporters are pointing to the quackery of UV blood irradiation to provide “context” to his remarks, even though UV blood irradiation (sometimes also called BioPhotonic therapy) is pure quackery that has never been convincingly demonstrated to treat anything and is often harmful, given that the people offering such quackery often aren’t that fastidious about sterility while doing a procedure that recirculates much of the patient’s blood volume through a UV device. It never ceases to amuse me how these partisans who appropriately criticize Chris Cuomo’s wife Christina Cuomo’s use of homeopathy and other quackery to treat her family’s COVID-19 (which I had planned on discussing here until this post ballooned longer than I had planned, leading me to think that the Cuomos’ quackery is serious enough to deserve a separate post of its own), while defending Trump’s embrace of quackery.
Some might just dismiss Trump’s irresponsible inadvertent promotion of quackery last night as Trump being Trump, as something that’s to be expected and is not likely to cause harm, but we already know that his premature touting of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin resulted in shortages of the drugs and helped feed the furor that led many hospitals to adopt hydroxychloroquine with or without azithromycin as a de facto standard of care even before there was any evidence other than Didier Raoult’s singularly incompetent, uninformative, and possibly even fraudulent first study. Paul Krugman wrote about Trump’s reliance on fake experts and medical quacks like Dr. Oz. He’s right. Reality (other than reality TV shows) is not Trump’s strong suit. Lives are likely to be endangered.
Seriously, if the manufacturer of Lysol feels the need after your press conference to warn that the internal use of disinfectants is potentially harmful, you really screwed up. Only in America during the era of Trump.