Updated 3/31/2020. A viral video by a doctor claimed that breathing hot air can kill the coronavirus. This video is now removed by Google/YouTube for an unspecified violation. We fact checked this independently and the results are below. Home hair dryers may still have asbestos. If so, breathing air from them on purpose could give you lung cancer. For that reason, don’t breathe hot air from a hair dryer to try to fight the virus.
Science: Heat Boosts Immune Response Against Virus
Without breathing the air from it, you may want to try that hair dryer to heat up your nose and neck for a few minutes a few times per day as soon as you start feeling any symptoms. We say this based on personal experience and also research. The first finding is with the rhinovirus (RV) which causes the common cold.
… not only does the warm temperature kill the infection off faster, but it maximizes the effect of an enzyme, called RNAseL, in the double-stranded RNA. The enzyme is part of the interferon response, and eventually helps to eliminate it. (PNAS)
Some viruses cause cancer. The mechanism of action of one antiviral drug (a DNA virus in this case, the cancer causing HPV) was to make more RNAseL.
the HIV protease inhibitor lopinavir has selective toxicity against human papillomavirus (HPV) … Ribonuclease L (RNAseL) protein was shown to be up-regulated in lopinavir-treated SiHa cells, which was confirmed by PCR and western blot. Targeted silencing of RNAseL reduced the sensitivity of SiHa cells to lopinavir. (NIH)
Upon activation, Ribonuclease L (for latent) destroys all RNA within the cell (both cellular and viral). Variations in the gene RNASEL (ribonuclease L) are listed as a cause of prostate cancer and ribonuclease L plays a role in maintaining immunity against viral infections. As SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, and as heat maximizes the effect of RNAseL, we conclude that there is a reasonable basis to test heat treatments.
Hair Dryer Cure Removed
A non-medical doctor posted something that went viral about hair dryers curing COVID-19 and YouTube removed this. Let’s see why and more importantly, if there is anything true in the claim that we can use to fight this virus.
Community Guidelines are generally helpful to keep things running smoothly in a world where people have very different views, and where there are jerks who try to scam people. This video had no nudity, hate speech, selling or making of firearms, violence or promotion of crime, and it probably did not endanger the emotional and physical well-being of minors, although it might cause conflicts in the home if kids see it and parents say it is a scam. It was not selling any illegal items and it was not any kind of harassment.
The places where we could see this as a violation of the YouTube Community Guidelines are:
Guideline 3: Spam, scams, and other deceptive practices that mislead the YouTube community aren’t allowed on YouTube. Perhaps they determined that this was intended to scam people, that it was just a ploy to get views.
Guideline 5: They may have decided that it encouraged a dangerous (but not illegal) activity that risked serious physical harm or death. If kids saw this and thought a hairdryer could cure the virus, they might die from not really curing it?
The video was by a PhD, but Snopes shows that Dän Lee Dimke is not a medical doctor. Does that matter? We often agree with Snopes, but not always. We do not believe that hot air from a hairdryer is an instant miracle cure for the Covid-19 virus, but Snopes did not convince us on three counts in regards to this hair dryer cure claim being completely false.
Experts on Virus and Heat
First, Snopes uses appeal to authority to refute the claim that heat from a hair dryer can get rid of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the human body.
“No reputable medical professionals or institutions recommend people breathe hot air to kill the coronavirus.”
True Strange News believes what the late Carl Sagan had to say on the topic:
One of the great commandments of science is, “Mistrust arguments from authority.” … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else. – Wikipedia
Always blindly following authorities, including medical professionals, can at times be hazardous to your health, because those authorities and doctors do not always agree. Ask hard questions and get more than one opinion whenever you can.
Most importantly here, real medical professionals do say heat does help to deactivate viruses.
Doctor Günter Kampf from the Greifswald University Hospital is a reputable medical professional. So is Professor Eike Steinmann, head of the Department for Molecular and Medical Virology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and their joint paper clearly says that elevated temperatures “hot air” as Snopes dismissively calls it, do result in reduced persistence of similar viruses tested. The paper is about different disinfecting agents that kill the viruses, not about heat, but they do note that heat made a difference.
“Low temperatures and high air humidity further increase their lifespan,” explains doctor Günter Kampf from the Greifswald University Hospital.
A higher temperature such as 30°C or 40°C reduced the duration of persistence of highly pathogenic MERS-CoV, TGEV and MHV. – “Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents“, Journal of Hospital Infection, March 2020 Volume 104, Issue 3, Pages 246–251
While it is true that these doctors are not recommending breathing hot air to kill the virus, if more and more heat kills more and more of this virus, it does not matter if every qualified medical expert who ever lived on planet earth was ignoring that fact. Truth does not require the approval of experts for it to be true.
Another expert, John Nicholls, a pathology professor at the University of Hong Kong who is a Coronavirus expert according to Accuweather, stated in an article published Feb 11, 2020 that “at 30 degrees (86 degrees F) then you get inactivation.“
That doesn’t make much sense, but it raises an eyebrow. Could it be that easy to kill? Body temperature is 98.6 F on average. This Coronavirus expert also, however, said that “the novel coronavirus most closely relates to a severe case of the common cold.” We now know in hindsight that this is quite wrong. Nicholls isn’t just any old expert. At the University of Hong Kong, Nicholls “spent the past 25 years studying coronavirus.” He served as a key member of the team that characterized SARS. Unlike SARS, however, where cases became infectious when symptom appeared (so isolation was very effective at reducing transmission,) the new SARS-CoV-2 virus is spread before symptoms appear. This is probably the key fact that he ignored in making this prediction. Experts can be totally wrong if they miss just one relevant fact.
Reality Wins, Eventually
You can’t just say something is true. It actually has to be true. Don’t totally ignore the experts. Experts are experts because they generally have more access to what is true. What is repeatably and relevantly observable is your target here. It takes work, research, and seriously trying to prove yourself wrong before you accept something if you are fully facing and embracing reality.
Heat and Viruses
There is more evidence that 104 F heat treatments from any dry heat source may be helpful. In another published article on the NIH web site, titled “Effects of Air Temperature and Relative Humidity on Coronavirus Survival on Surfaces” (Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 May; 76(9): 2712–2717.) it was found that air temperature mattered. Virus was inactivated at all relative humidity levels tested more rapidly at a temperature of even 68 degrees F compared to a temperature of 39.2 degrees F. The study presented the result in degrees Celsius.
“Assessment of the risks posed by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV) on surfaces requires data on survival of this virus on environmental surfaces and on how survival is affected by environmental variables, such as air temperature (AT) and relative humidity (RH).” …
“Inactivation was more rapid at 20°C at all RH levels than at 4°C.”
This is from 2010, and from a different coronavirus, but still a coronavirus. While 68 F degrees is not hot, this study shows that hotter temperatures result in more rapid inactivation of a coronavirus, more supporting evidence. Hot air may cause more rapid inactivation of a virus.
In the “debunked” and now removed video, a paper on the World Health Organization web site was shown. This information, as shown in the video, does indeed clearly state that the coronavirus tested was killed at 56C.
Virus survival in cell-culture supernatant
Only minimal reduction in virus concentration after 21 days at 4°C and -80°C. Reduction in virus concentration by one log only at stable room temperature for 2 days. This would indicate that the virus is more stable than the known human coronaviruses under these conditions. Heat at 56°C kills the SARS coronavirus at around 10000 units per 15 min (quick reduction).
Cell culture supernatant is the media in which the cells were growing. The virus inside cells was killed with “hot air” at 56 degrees Celsius. This is 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Did the cells in the media survive the heating? Probably not. Our living cells have a max temperature of about 104 F. For reference, water boils at 212°F but even 120 F for an extended period of time will result in 3rd degree burns. The important point is that 132 F is much too hot.
No one has tested the SARS-CoV-2 virus as yet, as far as we’ve been able to find, to see the exact temperature at which it becomes deactivated. Hot dry conditions appear likely to help kill this virus. The claim by Snopes about hot air not being useful is, therefore, MISLEADING.
Nasal Virus Congregation
The second point on which we disagree with Snopes is where they stated that “viruses don’t make you sick by congregating in your nasal cavities.”
The video states, “Their aversion to heat forces coronaviruses to live and reproduce only in the coolest parts of the body.”
Viruses being “alive” depends on definitions and there is disagreement. They are not alive in that they can’t reproduce on their own. The lungs are not the coolest parts of the body, but when the air you breathe is below body temperature, lung surfaces most likely cooler than body temperature. According to Dr Ellen Foxman of Yale University:
“… cold preference is the reason rhinoviruses predominantly infect the nasal passages, which tend to be at temperatures several degrees cooler than the rest of the body, particularly in cold environments.”
Rhinoviruses are not coronaviruses, but some viruses do, clearly, make you sick by congregating in your nasal cavities. It is not the fact of their congregation that makes you sick, but they make you sick and they congregate there, so we judge this claim, as stated by Snopes to be FALSE.
Does Heat Stop Sick Cells Invaded by Virus?
Third, Snopes stated that viruses “make you sick on a cellular level via mechanisms not easily stopped by something as simple as hot air.”
One simple question. Why do people get a temperature with the flu?
Fevers are caused by chemicals called pyrogens flowing in the bloodstream. Pyrogens make their way to the hypothalamus in the brain, which is in charge of regulating body temperature. When pyrogens bind to certain receptors in the hypothalamus, body temperature rises.
A fever kills the virus by making your body hotter than normal. That also helps germ-killing proteins in your blood get where they need to be more quickly. (WebMD)
Simple hot air transfers heat to the cells in your body that it contacts. Heated cells accelerate the destruction of virus. A rise in body temperature from hot air is probably the same as a rise in body temperature from body regulation. Thus, we conclude that simple hot air can likely help stop viruses that make you sick on a cellular level. This claim by Snopes is PROBABLY FALSE.
So, Breathing Hairdryer Air or Not?
Some hair dryers have asbestos and you can get lung cancer by breathing that, so NO.
From the 1970s until the early 1980s, asbestos was commonly used to make hair dryers. … Home-use hair dryer manufacturers were also guilty of using asbestos until the 1980s, and it has been estimated that up to 10 million asbestos-containing hair dryers were in circulation.
Is there still asbestos in your home hairdryer? Some companies have a phone number to call to ask.
As far as heat in general, we simply do not yet know if treatments of hot air can kill Covid-19 in your lungs and body as the video claimed. In our tests, a hairdryer about a foot away, that felt just hot enough to stand, was about 104 degrees. For safety, there is a “140F” limit for brief skin cell temperature, but this is way too hot for the face. Even 106 F can be too hot in some cases.
If the Coronavirus that causes the disease called Covid-19 is susceptible to temperatures of 133 F for 5 minutes the hair dryer sterilization method might certainly work on non-body surfaces. The amount of time needed to kill the virus at 133 F is too long for human skin, however.
One source said only sustained (how long?) temperatures over 180 F degrees kills Covid-19 virus. Some dishwashers do get this hot. Check yours, some don’t.
Sustained internal body temperatures above 40 °C (104 °F) can be life-threatening. This virus could also be more hearty than the one that the WHO noted was deactivated at 133F for 5 minutes. Another source, Reference.com, states that most viruses are deactivated at temperatures between 165 F and 212 F degrees, and thus, we can see that viruses appear more tolerant of high temperatures than human cells. Boiling water (212 F) is certainly hot enough to deactivate the Covid-19 virus outside of the body, but this is too hot for our cells. This doesn’t mean that elevated temperature can’t be part of a combined strategy, however.
Heat Treatments + Why Are Bat Immune?
A fever is part of the body’s natural strategy to fight the flu and modest local heat may help the body fight this virus. One of the common symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever. Recently, French Minister Olivier Veran, a physician, tweeted that ibuprofen “could be a factor in aggravating the infection.” Ibuprofen reduces fevers. It is a “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)” works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body, but as we’ve been saying for years, this treats the body’s response to the invasion, not the attackers. We would never take these drugs because, unless it is life threatening, a fever is an important part of the body’s useful response to a viral attack.
Think about bats. There are over 1000 different types, but while they can carry 100s of coronaviruses–over 400 new ones in Chinese bats in one study–, they don’t get sick from them. How do bats not die from the viruses like SARS, MERS and COVID-19 they can carry? One reason may be that their immune systems do not over-react as ours do but this doesn’t seem like it could be the whole story. Another major difference is that bats get a temperature once a day. When flying around their body temperatures spike to 100 F degrees. A third thing is that bats are very active. Most bats must fly to eat (they eat all kinds of things, insects including some mosquitoes, birds, fish, frogs, lizards, even other bats) and this consumes a lot of energy. This daily activity may help move the virus out of the bat’s system. Some viruses (not all!) cause some cancers and bats very rarely get cancer.
Hot air, or heat in general from a safe source, might help your body fight the virus.
If you decide to use a hair dryer or other heat source to warm up your face and neck for a few minutes several times a day, as an experiment, there is no indication at this time that this will stop you from getting sick. You must still wash your hands often and correctly, use effective surface sanitizers, practice social distancing, and do everything else you can to stay healthy, but we would not blame you for wanting to give this a try. It reduced some long time nasal congestion and body aches significantly in a few days, so even if it does nothing to fight the virus, it may help with other symptoms.
Can breathing hot air kill or slow the spread of Covid-19 in your body? Unknown.
Overall conclusion: DON’T BREATHE HAIRDRYER AIR, BUT HEAT MAY HELP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM FIGHT VIRUSES
There is much we can do.