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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke April 8, 2020

No evidence 59 people died from drinking disinfectant to prevent coronavirus

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  • There’s no evidence 59 people died from drinking the cleaning product Dettol to prevent the coronavirus. 
  • In 2016, a South African pastor had his congregation drink Dettol to heal their sicknesses, newspaper reports said. We found no news coverage of people dying as a result.

We’ve debunked a lot of claims about ways to ward off COVID-19, and just to recap, here’s what we know now: hot lemon, silver solution, stomach acid, marijuana, cocaine and sunlight won’t kill the coronavirus. Neither will gargling with warm water and salt or drinking bleach — please don’t consume fish-tank cleaner — and don’t bother breathing the steam of boiling orange peels and cayenne pepper. 

But an April 6 Facebook post suggests that dozens of people indulged in another such remedy and paid the ultimate price. A screenshot of what looks like a news story from shows a photo of a man pouring a red liquid into a woman’s mouth. 

"59 people die as pastor gives them Dettol to drink in church to prevent coronavirus," the headline below the image says. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Daily Sun, which describes itself as a leading English newspaper in Bangladesh, did post a story on March 26 with that headline, but it has since been deleted from the website. Google search results for the story show this snippet of the article, though: "South African Prophet Rufus Phala allegedly gave his members Dettol, a household bleach to drink as a preventive medicine to coronavirus."

The same story appeared on March 19 on a website called Kenya Today. It goes on to say that 59 congregants were confirmed dead and four others are in critical condition after drinking Dettol. 

But we couldn’t find any news reports to corroborate that account. 

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Rather, the image appeared online in 2016 on the website of another Daily Sun — a newspaper in South Africa. The caption says: "Prophet Rufus Phala of AK Spiritual Christian Church made his church members drink Dettol, claiming they will be healed of sickness."

Dettol South Africa’s verified Facebook account responded in a statement to reports of Phala "practice of instructing his congregation to drink Dettol Antiseptic Liquid." 

The cleaning product isn’t for human consumption, the company said, urging anyone who drank it to consult a medical professional.

"We have been in contact with Prophet Rufus Phala and asked him to stop this practice," the statement says.

We didn’t find any news reports that the congregants died after drinking Dettol.  

A spokesman for the South African Police Service told AFP South Africa that it’s not true that 59 people died after drinking Dettol to prevent coronavirus, and he "denied any investigations into the deaths of 59 people linked to the consumption of Dettol," according to the news outlet. 

We rate this Facebook post False.


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No evidence 59 people died from drinking disinfectant to prevent coronavirus

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