As fears of a coronavirus outbreak spread virally on social media in late January 2020, so too did posts about the packaging of Lysol and what some people saw as a suspicious mention of a viral strain that was new to them:
LYSOL WAS INVENTED IN 1889, THIS CAN I HAD FOR THE PAST 3 YEARS AND IT SAYS IT KILLS THE CORONAVIRUS!! pic.twitter.com/KeYnxFkAf6
— David Nunez (@Mrdcqdave) January 29, 2020
Another Facebook post maintained that stories around the coronavirus outbreak were exaggerated to whip up fears about illness and thus encourage vaccinations:
Look at the lysol bottle…. human coronavirus on the label.
This virus outbreak is big drama. Media being used to create fear. Loosh. People running for vaz-zeenes to be “protected”.
We must be wise. We must step back, think, let people who do the work to research get information out and listen to the data.
Reaction is our demise. Responding is wise.
Common toxic lysol kills the virus though GSE and Thieves Oil… healthy, natural items are even better.
DO NOT USE LYSOL. ITS A SERIOUS TOXICANT.
Time to think, people, and calm ourselves.
Lysol — a popular disinfectant branded as effective against bacteria and viruses — was mentioned a lot by people in general as they shared concerns about the new coronavirus strain (2019-nCoV.) But in the first post above from Facebook, a commenter said:
Lysol and Clorox wipes fight Human Coronavirus. Hmmm, Now how did they know about a Virus we knew nothing about???
In a tweet, a user said:
LYSOL WAS INVENTED IN 1889, THIS CAN I HAD FOR THE PAST 3 YEARS AND IT SAYS IT KILLS THE CORONAVIRUS!!
‼️TAKE TIME TO READ ‼️
LYSOL KILLS 99.9% OF VIRUS AND BACTERIA, KILLS IN 30 SECONDS
Walang masama kung i-try natin. This might help #coronavirus from spreading.
— ⚡️joed's lutong hapon (@joedxluzon) January 28, 2020
Lysol level on the back say will kill the Human Coronavirus read it on the back. Let’s share it pic.twitter.com/4U6bFoYDfE
— Rodney Gonzalez (@GordosPlaceProv) January 26, 2020
In the US there has been OVER 8200 deaths of the flu, this #flu season ALONE. The CDC estimates 15-21,000,00 cases of flu IN THE USA this season. #Coronavirus has killed 106 people and 4,630 confirmed cases WORLDWIDE. Wash your hands, spray Lysol and wait for it to dry. pic.twitter.com/ARfd0FggDG
— Elena (@Esos__ojitos) January 29, 2020
Occasionally, such posts claimed that the coronavirus was novel, new, or something “we just heard about” in late 2019 and January 2020. Although it is accurate to say the 2020 coronavirus outbreak itself is novel, coronavirus overall is not.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus page, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus strain was identified first in the city of Wuhan in late 2019:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in more than a thousand confirmed cases in China, including cases outside Wuhan City. Additional cases have been identified in a growing number of other international locations, including the United States. There are ongoing investigations to learn more.
A sidebar on the same page indicated SARS — a virus in the news in recent years — was another form of human coronavirus:
Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world. Seven different coronaviruses, that scientists know of, can infect people and make them sick. Some human coronaviruses were identified many years ago and some have been identified recently. Human coronaviruses commonly cause mild to moderate illness in people worldwide. Two newer human coronaviruses, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, have been known to frequently cause severe illness.
Clicking “see more” led to another page about coronavirus strains, which explained:
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s.
The World Health Organization also explained that while coronaviruses were not new, the strain identified in Wuhan in 2019 had previously not infected people:
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
As for the vaccination rumor, no vaccines for the coronavirus (a version of which can also cause the common cold) were available as of January 2020. The CDC recommended hand-washing, avoiding contact with sick people, and disinfection of surfaces as precautions against the novel coronavirus strain spreading in late 2019 and early 2020. The term “coronavirus” is a description of its appearance, referring to the crown-like structure of the virus when viewed under a microscope.
It is true that Lysol packaging described coronavirus among pathogens vulnerable to Lysol’s ingredients. A strain of coronavirus at the center of a growing panic about a possible global pandemic was first identified in December 2019, and it was still being researched with no known effective antivirals as of late January 2020. Use of disinfectants such as Lysol were among recommendations for avoiding coronaviruses, but the most important and most stressed by epidemiologists was washing your hands for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if facilities for washing were not available.