Fact check: Sunlight does not kill the new coronavirus

The claim: Sunlight kills the new coronavirus

An article on a holistic health blog that has been circulating on Facebook tells people to go outside to prevent catching the new coronavirus because sunlight kills it.

“In my opinion, keeping the beaches closed and having people quarantined inside their homes is a bad decision. Getting more sunshine is a proactive step we can all take at protecting ourselves from the current coronavirus outbreak,” wrote David Friedman, the author of the blog post. “Instead of staying quarantined inside your house, go outside on your back deck and soak up some virus destroying sunshine!"

The claim has been shared elsewhere. Graphics offering similar tips have spread throughout social media.

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Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., who represents the 3rd Congressional District, referred to the claim last month in a video posted on his Twitter account. 

In the video, Murphy, a physician who worked in urology and renal transplantation, stands in scrubs in front of a large white board and shares tips to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. One of the items on the list is “Sunlight (UV light) can kill the virus.”

USA TODAY reached out to Friedman and Murphy for comment but did not receive a response from either.

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The claim appeared in the Thai newspaper Komchadluek in March. The article listed UV light as one of seven “things that COVID-19 is afraid of.” AFP Fact Check reported the article was shared in a Thai-language health group on Facebook with more than 6,000 followers and posted on social media multiple times, translated into English and Spanish.

What experts say: The sun’s UV light cannot kill the coronavirus, and concentrated UV light should not be used to kill the virus

The claim holds little truth. Experts advised against using concentrated UV light to prevent or treat the coronavirus and do not recommend going in the sunlight to kill the virus.

Only levels of UV light much higher than what is in sunlight can kill viruses, experts said, and the levels that kill viruses can cause irritation to human skin and should be avoided.

Pokrath Hansasuta, assistant professor of virology at Chulalongkorn University, explained what happens to AFP Fact Check.

“Ultraviolet is able to kill COVID-19 if it is exposed to the concentrated UV ray in a certain amount of time and distance,” she said. “However, that level of UV exposure is harmful to human’s skin. Most likely, it will be in the light bulb or lamp as the natural UV from the sun is not strong enough to kill it.

The World Health Organization created a graphic as part of a series of myth busters about the coronavirus that tells the public not to use UV light to kill the virus. 

“UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can cause skin irritation,” the graphic reads.

Neither sunlight nor UV light is listed as a preventive measure on the websites of the WHO or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is some evidence to suggest the spread of the virus may slow down as the weather gets warmer. That may lead some to incorrectly suggest sunlight as a tip to stay healthy. 

Time magazine reported on new research that has not yet been peer-reviewed that suggested the possibility of a connection between heat and the rate of the spread of the coronavirus, but experts concluded the research is still early and not definitive.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in an NPR interview in February that it's unclear how the coronavirus will react to heat or sunlight.

"I think it's premature to assume that," Messonnier said. "We haven't been through even a single year with this pathogen."

Our ruling: False

Friedman referred to sunlight as “virus destroying sunlight.” This is FALSE. There is no evidence proving sunlight kills the coronavirus. Only highly concentrated UV rays are reported to kill viruses, and the World Health Organization advises against using UV rays because they can damage skin.

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