Five coronavirus health tips you should ignore and why

With coronavirus cases increasing across the world, people are turning to anything to help them cope with and avoid catching the virus and that includes sloppy health advice ranging from ineffective and harmless to incredibly dangerous.

Most of these popular claims are being shared online so it’s important to look at the science behind it and what it says.

1. Drinkable silver

Colloidal silver, which are tiny particles of the metal suspended in liquid, was promoted on US televangelist Jim Bakker’s show. A guest on the show claimed the fluid kills some strains of the coronavirus within 12 hours.

The idea that it could be a potential treatment for coronavirus has been speculating all over social media, especially on Facebook by medical freedom groups.

Supporters of colloidal silver claim it can help the immune system, act as an antiseptic and treat a variety of health conditions. Although there are occasional uses of silver in health care, such as in bandages applied to wounds, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective to consume.

Advice from the US health authorities clearly state that there’s no evidence this silver solution is effective for any health condition let alone coronavirus. This is also because silver is not a metal that has any function in the human body unlike iron and zinc. Most importantly it could also cause serious side effects such as causing bluish-grey discolouration of the skin commonly known as Argyria.

People who are promoting the substance on social media for general health have found their posts now create a fact-checking pop-up warning from Facebook’s services.

2. Garlic

A majority of Facebook posts recommend eating garlic helps prevent coronavirus from entering your system and also lowers the chance of you getting it.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says there’s no evidence that eating garlic can protect people from the virus even though it is “a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties.”

Image from: EcoWatch

Even though they have the potential to be harmful, in a large number of cases these types of remedies aren’t harmful in themselves as long as they’re not stopping people from following evidence based medical advice.

A story of a woman who was left with a severely inflamed throat and who had received hospital treatment because she had consumed 1.5kg of raw garlic was reported by the South China Morning Post.

Even though we know in general that eating healthy foods such as fruit and veg and drinking water is good for staying healthy, there’s no evidence that particular kinds of foods could help fight this strain of the virus.

3. Homemade hand sanitiser

As many reports of shortages of hand sanitiser emerged in many countries, especially Italy, so did instructions for how to make home-made gel on social media.

Image from: Popular Science

But it turned out these recipes were alleged dupes of one of Italy’s most popular brands and many scientists pointed out they were only suitable for cleaning surfaces and not good for use on skin.

Hand gels that contain alcohol also contain emollients, which make them gentler on skin even though they have a 70% alcohol content.

Sally Bloomfield, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says she does not believe an effective hand sanitiser product could be made at home – including Vodka which has not been recommended to use as an alternative to hand sanitiser as it only contains 40% of alcohol and has proven to be ineffective.

4. Heat and avoiding ice cream

A variety of advice suggests that heat kills the virus, from taking hot baths to drinking hot water or absurdly enough, even using hair dryers.

A post that was falsely referenced to UNICEF that claimed drinking hot water and exposure to the sun will kill the virus was shared multiple times on social media in different countries. The post also suggested that ice creams should be avoided as cold things can increase the lifespan of the virus.

Image by: edexLIVE

Even though we know the virus doesn’t survive well outside the body during summer, we are still unsure on how heat impacts the virus. Many doctors have suggested that the virus could not die down during the summer or in hot temperatures as it is able to survive at the body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius.

Therefore, outside the body, “to actively kill the virus you need temperatures of around 60 degrees Celsius”, says Professor Bloomfield.

However, washing bed linen and towels at 60 degrees Celsius is good as it can kill viruses in fabric but is not a good idea for washing skin.

5. Having a drink of water every 15 minutes

A post that has been circulating over Facebook as well as being posted by actor Jessie Williams on his Instagram story, quotes a Japanese doctor who recommends drinking water every 15 minutes to flush out any viruses that may have entered your system through the mouth.

Image from: Snopes

Coronavirus infections can enter the body through respiratory tracts when you breathe in. Even though some of them might go into your mouth, continually drinking water isn’t going to prevent you from catching the virus.

Trudie Lang, a professor at the University of Oxford, says there is “no biological mechanism” that would back the concept of washing a respiratory virus down into your stomach to kill it.

However, generally drinking water and making sure you stay hydrated is good medical advice.

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