Ministries of Health, toxicologists, doctors and experts around the World are speaking out against these practices, find out what they are saying.
Interviews with experts
Get to know what experts think of these practices.
As an epidemiologist, can you explain how can spraying people with chemicals be a good measure to reduce their viral load and stop the virus from spreading?
"I find this approach dangerous, abhorrent and misguided. It must be banned".
Professor in infectious Diseases, National University of Singapore
Chair, Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network
From your experience on the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in West-Africa, how did the measures of spreading people with chlorine help to reduce the virus, and what were the effects of such practice in human health?
"The chlorine did not help at all, in fact the community spraying had completely the opposite effects".
Past Chair Infection Control Africa Network
Chair Education Working Group ICAN
Would spraying humans with chemicals help reduce their viral load?
"High-volume spraying, fogging, or misting is used to advantage where the target is mosquitoes (for instance where an outbreak of yellow fever, dengue, Zika, or malaria threatens the health of the local population. The approaches are two-fold: (1) larvicidal application to surface water with a very thin oil to eliminate the development of mosquito larvae, and (2) adulticide application, where this type of spraying is used on bushes and grassy areas, or (in the case of the four diseases listed), inside houses where the mosquito is found during the day. This application was considered environmentally damaging, but mosquito eradication programs were effective.
Application of DDT insecticide dust was administered directly onto refugees and inside their clothing during and after the second World War. The purpose was mass treatment against the body louse, head louse, and pubic lice, which spread among other diseases, typhus. This was clumsy, and not reliable, but for mass treatment it was acceptable.
Application of disinfectant sprays is part of normal operating technique for laboratory personnel working in high-containment biohazard level 4 laboratories when they leave the secure area. They are wearing full-body, sealed "Haz-Mat" suits, so none of the disinfectant actually reaches their skin or lungs. This again is completely appropriate, and is an additional protection against viruses such as Ebola leaving the laboratory.
A final example of appropriate use is in field hospitals treating deceased Ebola victims. A recently deceased patient is sprayed with strong antiviral compounds because of the risk of transmission through contact with the skin. Ebola is transmitted through body fluids, and contact with the skin. Again, an appropriate application.
However, applying misted hypochlorite solution or quaternary ammonium compounds disinfectant directly onto the public in an attempt to control a respiratory virus is inappropriate, ineffective, and harmful, in that it increases the risk of numerous skin conditions and inflammations, especially exacerbating bronchitis and asthmatic conditions. This latter could be serious and even fatal. The point is that these harmful conditions constitute an assault on the person with no advantage or benefit. The agent (the virus) is not on the clothing of the person. It is a respiratory virus, hence it is found in the nasopharynx and epithelium of the lung. Any hand contact can be easily removed with hand-washing using ordinary soap or alcohol based sanitizer or spray.
Applying misted disinfectant to the street, pavement, footpath, is similarly a waste of time, effort and money. Again, the virus is not spread through contaminated feet, wagon wheels, or horse manure.
An argument can be made for :
Spraying or wiping-down door handles, door knobs, handrails, park-benches
Spraying children's play equipment and climbing apparatus (provided the children are NOT in the vicinity!)
Wiping hand-rails and straps touched by passengers on buses".
Professor Emeritus (Epidemiology)
School of Public Health
Ryerson University, Toronto
What would be the health effects of using these chemicals to disinfect the human body?
"Spraying the human body with these chemicals in an attempt to disinfect it can result in various harmful effects. These effects occur mainly because of the irritation they cause when they come in contact with the body. First, inhaling these chemicals can cause irritation of the lungs and airway (coughing, pneumonitis) and can also cause asthma attacks. Second, direct contact of the skin and other body surfaces with these chemicals can cause irritation of the nose, eyes, and skin. Ingesting these chemicals or exposing the body to them for long periods of time could cause other problems, but these effects would be less likely in disinfection tunnels".
Luis E. Huerta
Pulmonary Disease Specialist
Meharry Medical College
How would the large amount of spraying chemicals on the streets and open spaces contribute to develop an antimicrobial resistance in the environment?
"The inappropriate application of disinfectants, particularly the
quaternary ammonium compounds, can induce antimicrobial resistance in environmental bacteria. This aspect is critical as we are currently fighting a virus, and in a near future we will have to deal with
antibiotic resistant bacteria. The mammalian toxicity of such chemicals is a potentially faster process".
LEPAE, Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto
What would be the effects on the lungs of brief daily exposures (20-30 seconds) to chemicals such as chlorine, quaternary ammonium, hydrogen peroxide, or ozone?
"The respiratory effects of exposure to gases and vapours depend on several factors, including:
(a) the intensity of the exposure (concentration x duration),
(b) the intrinsic toxicity of the chemical and its physicochemical characteristics, and
(c) the pathophysiological mechanism by which they can cause harm.
Some of these chemicals may be sensitizers (i.e. capable of causing an allergy in certain individuals), for example quaternary ammonium or glutaraldehyde, which have been associated with allergic asthma. Others act rather as direct irritants to the respiratory system. In the case of the latter, the location of the irritant effect will depend, in part, on their water solubility (i.e. how easily they can be dissolved in water). Thus, highly water-soluble irritants (e.g. ammonia) usually cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract (rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis), while poorly water-soluble irritants, e.g. various nitrogen oxides, have a preference for the lower respiratory tract and may even cause pulmonary edema (water-logging of the lungs) or bronchiolitis obliterans. And then there are chemical compounds of intermediate water-solubility, which predominantly affect the larger airways such as the trachea and bronchi, producing irritation at that level (tracheitis, bronchitis).
All this is, in turn, modulated by the intensity of exposure. Thus, a single massive exposure to a respiratory irritant can even cause asthma (what we call irritative asthma, formerly called "RADS" or reactive airway dysfunction syndrome). Any irritant (including almost all those mentioned in the question), at a very high concentration, can cause this type of asthma. What is less clear is whether chronic exposure to much lower levels of an irritant can lead to the same thing, although there is evidence that they can at least produce conditions such as chronic bronchitis or chronic sinusitis".
Pulmonary Disease Specialist
UTHealth School of Public Health
What effects can have on people's health the use of disinfection tunnels and/or sprays with chemicals, such as: chlorine, ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and/or benzalkonium chloride?
"Chlorine, ozone and hydrogen peroxide can have irritating effects on the mucous membranes of the upper and lower respiratory tract. That is, they can cause acute effects on the bronchi, lungs, nose and eyes. Symptoms may include coughing, itching and tearing. Exposure to these substances can also produce irritant induced asthma in two ways: after several repeated exposures to medium levels, or after a single mass exposure. Benzalkonium chloride can trigger sensitization asthma after exposure to relatively low levels".
Institute for Global Health Barcelona (ISGlobal)
What are the effects on the skin of passing through disinfection tunnels and been sprayed with chemicals (chlorine, benzalkonium chloride, ozone, and/or hydrogen peroxide)?
"These sprays or substances can cause skin irritations and allergies. Some people are more sensitive than others.
The allergy reaction is called contact dermatitis which can be irritative at first contact with these substances, mainly chlorine and quaternary ammonium. There is also allergic contact dermatitis in which the substance has to come into contact with the skin repeatedly, and subsequently the body will create memory immunity, and eventually cause an allergic sensitivity. This means that every time the person comes into contact with the substance that caused the allergy, he or she will have an allergic reaction on the skin. This manifests itself as itching or reddish itching of the skin, small blisters called vesicles, translucent exudation or discharge from the skin, scabs, and peeling.
It is not advisable to apply these substances to the skin".
Which countries are implementing these measures?
The number of businesses, municipalities, cities, and countries that are applying these measures grows daily. Specially, as the quarantine measures are starting to be removed people are tempted to include human disinfection as a key measure to stop it from spreading.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
People's Republic of China
United Arab Emirates