Five important things you need to know about disinfectant tunnels

The spraying of people with disinfectants in booths or chambers is not supported by the World Health Organisation as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. File image
The spraying of people with disinfectants in booths or chambers is not supported by the World Health Organisation as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. File image
Image: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS

The health hazards caused by using disinfectant tunnels as a preventive measure against Covid-19 have come under the spotlight after the release of advisories by the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC).

Disinfectant tunnels, also known as fumigating tunnels, were installed in malls, schools and taxi ranks when the coronavirus first hit SA.

However, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, chair of SA’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, warned at the time that there was no scientific evidence supporting claims that disinfectant tunnels could prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Here are five important things you need to know, according to the MAC advisories.

Health hazards

Spraying individuals with chemicals could have physical and psychological effects. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as chlorine could result in eye and skin irritation and cause nausea and vomiting.

“Spraying individuals with disinfectants is not recommended under any circumstances. This could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person's ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact.”

Disinfectants are unnecessary 

The chemicals used in disinfectant tunnels could harm or alter the body's natural bacteria which protect against diseases.

“Since the coronavirus does not enter through skin, there is no reason to spray the skin or clothing. Spraying chemicals on a person’s skin may alter the protective natural bacteria that are an important part of our protection against skin diseases and skin reactions.”

Human spraying banned in some countries

The spraying of humans is not allowed in countries including the US, UK, India, Philippines and Malaysia. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Infection Control Network Africa are among the health organisations that do not support the exposure of humans to chemical sprays.

Use hand sanitiser

The committee recommends the use of hand sanitisers which protect the mucosal surfaces like the nose, mouth and eyes through which the virus enters.

“Applying sanitiser on hands only prevents the spread of many microbes, including the coronavirus. Since our hands may come into contact with contaminated surfaces and we may touch our mouths, noses or eyes with contaminated hands, it is important to wash our hands with soap or regularly rub our hands with an alcohol-based sanitiser.”

Spraying humans with toxic substances is unlawful

The Hazardous Substances Act disallows the use of toxic substances which are corrosive and irritant and which cause illness and or death in humans. The Environmental Management Act says South Africans have the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.

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