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Will Heat And Humidity Kill The Coronavirus?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

At a briefing last night at the White House, a scientist from the Department of Homeland Security unveiled some preliminary research suggesting that heat and humidity kill the coronavirus. From there, the briefing got a little strange, with President Trump suggesting that ultraviolet light or injected bleach may work as well. I want to bring in NPR's global health and development correspondent Jason Beaubien. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with these suggestions about heat and humidity. I mean, could this mean - this is a question we've been asking for a while now...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Could it mean that this will be like the seasonal flu and it'll go away when it gets warm?

BEAUBIEN: You know, so - first, the seasonality of the flu, it's a really complicated dance that has to do with a lot of things. Like, it's got human patterns of behavior, people being cooped up in the winter, the number of people who are susceptible any given winter to a particular strain of the flu. You know - and there is some evidence out there that flu viruses spread more easily in colder temperatures. It's got to do with the relative humidity of the air going down as the temperature drops, and then there's less moisture in the air and these respiratory viruses move through the air more easily.

However - and I've talked to a lot of flu researchers on this, and they say in the first year that a new virus is circulating, it's very unlikely that you would get that pattern in part because there's this huge pool of people who have no immunity to this particular virus. And that gives the virus fertile ground to spread in a way that would outweigh any marginal benefit that it would have, you know - the suppression of it might be due to that rise in temperature. And even Bill Bryan, the science and technology adviser at the Department of Homeland Security, at that briefing last night, he called - he said it would be irresponsible to say that summer is going to totally kill this virus.

GREENE: OK. But this - that still didn't stop President Trump from starting to speculate here...

BEAUBIEN: It didn't.

GREENE: ...Last night on the possibility that powerful lights maybe disinfectants to clean the lungs could also kill the virus. I just think we should listen to what he said here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it. And then 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 - sounds interesting. Right. 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? 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. So that - you're going to have to use medical doctors with - but it sounds interesting to me.

GREENE: All right. Jason, I mean, it sounds like the president is just throwing ideas out to this adviser, Bill Bryan. I mean, what - how are doctors reacting to these ideas?

BEAUBIEN: I think there's been a lot of pushback certainly on social media last night. And people are fairly concerned about that. You know, the idea of injecting any type of disinfectant into the body is not well-received in the medical community. Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist at the University of Washington, told NBC News last night that injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and dangerous.

You know, and the worry is that people listening to these official briefings may act on this on what they're hearing. Earlier, the president was really enthusiastic about an antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, that, you know, perhaps could be used to treat COVID-19. There was a case of a man who died after swallowing chloroquine phosphate that's used to clean his fish tank. So there's very much concern that this could cause similar things.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, this is not the first time the president has been accused of, like, jumping the gun on science.

BEAUBIEN: That's right. And this issue with hydroxychloroquine in particular - you know, last week - actually, this week, a panel from National Institutes of Health recommended that this combination could be quite toxic.

GREENE: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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