Dettol’s manufacturer denied it tested its products on the novel strain of coronavirus

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved

An image of a Dettol label that touts the disinfectant's ability to kill the "coronavirus" has been shared tens of thousands of times in multiple Facebook posts alongside a claim that the product’s maker may have been aware of the novel coronavirus before it broke out in China in December 2019. The claim is misleading; the cleaning product’s reference to “coronavirus” denotes its effectiveness in protecting people from a general group of viruses, including the common cold; Dettol’s manufacturer said it has not tested its products against the novel coronavirus.

The image was published in this Facebook post on January 30, 2020. It has been shared more than 44,000 times.

The post features an image of the back label of a bottle of Dettol, a widely-available disinfectant brand sold by consumer goods firm Reckitt Benkiser. The label, which is dated October 27, 2019, claims the product “Kills E.Coli, Sammonella [sic], MRSA, Rotavirus, Flu virus, Cold viruses (Human Coronavirus and RSV)." 

The post’s caption reads: “This kills coronavirus how did they know about it in 2019?”

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

The novel coronavirus, also known by its interim name 2019-nCoV, is a new strain of the virus that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

The virus, which had not been previously identified in humans, has killed at least 563 people and infected more than 28,000 people in China as of February 5, 2020, AFP reported. The virus has spread to more than 24 nations, including Australia.

The Dettol image also appeared on Facebook here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here with a similar claim.

The claim is false. "Coronavirus" is a general term for a family of viruses that includes the common cold and more serious viruses like MERS, SARS and the novel coronavirus.

Reckitt Benkiser also refuted the claim, saying in a statement on Facebook that it had not yet tested its products on the novel coronavirus and could not yet confirm whether Dettol is an effective disinfectant.

“As this is an emerging outbreak RB, like all manufacturers, doesn't yet have access to the new virus (2019-nCoV) for testing and, as a result, are not yet in a position to confirm levels of effectiveness against the new strain," the statement reads. “We continue to work with our partners to ensure that we have the latest understanding of the virus, route of transmission and will test our product range once health authorities make the strain available.”

The first detection of the illness was on December 31, 2019, when the World Health Organization's China Country office was informed of cases of pneumonia from an unknown cause in Wuhan, according to the organisation's situation report.

According to WHO, Chinese authorities idenitified the new type of coronavirus when they isolated the strain on January 7, 2020. 

As of February 5, 2020, the WHO said it was working to "accelerate the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines" for the novel coronavirus.