Hot on the heels of panic buying, we are starting to see people posting about supposed ‘cures’ for COVID-19 that some mysterious ‘they’ are not telling us about for ‘their’ own sinister reasons. Folks, this is reality, not the X-Files (I know, showing my age). Seriously, I’ve seen the image below posted on Facebook by several people in the last 24 hours (minus the red X – that’s my addition!). In this post I am going to explain why it’s incorrect, and why anyone who shares or follows it is NOT saving someone, but is putting themselves and others at risk.
The reason this is incorrect lies in the way viruses reproduce. As explained in my earlier post, ‘What is a virus?’, viruses consist of a strand of genetic material (RNA in the case of COVID-19) inside a protective envelope. In order to reproduce, they have to get inside a cell, hijack its organelles, then destroy the cell membrane to release the new virus particles. The image below shows this. It’s for an influenza virus, but all viruses work the same way.
When you have a sore throat from COVID-19 (or any other virus), it’s because the virus is invading the epithelial cells that line the throat, and using them to reproduce. A combination of damage to the lining of the throat, and inflammation from your immune response, is what gives you a sore throat.
Gargling with warm water and salt/ vinegar may destroy some of the free virus particles, or wash them away. What it won’t do is affect cells infected with the virus. Any viruses that are already inside cells will be completely unaffected because they are protected by the cell membrane; they will be busy reproducing away like crazy. As soon as you stop gargling, viruses leaving infected cells will once again go on to affect other cells.
So why might gargling and drinking plenty of water make a sore throat feel better or even disappear? If the lining of the throat becomes dry, it makes the soreness worse, so drinking plenty of water will prevent drying out. Gargling warm salt water to soothe a sore throat is nothing new, it’s a tried and tested remedy. I can remember my granny making me do this during childhood bouts of tonsillitis and it really does help. You can also use bicarbonate of soda. So, hydration and gargling will soothe a sore throat, as will throat lozenges, or in fact any boiled sweet because they generate production of saliva.
Please though, take it from me, the advice in the picture at the top of the post will NOT cure you of COVID-19 infection. Posts like this are extremely dangerous for two reasons. First, they may make people think they are cured, so they are unprepared when more serious symptoms appear. But the biggest danger is someone might believe they are cured and go out and about, potentially spreading the virus.
The take-home message from this post is, if you want information about how to treat COVID-19, PLEASE get it from a reputable source. In the UK, your first port of call should be the NHS; there is plenty of advice available online. If you have a health condition, charities and support organisations have specific, up to date advice – personally, I check Asthma UK daily for updates. Whatever you do, DON’T follow advice from random, unaccredited sources on social media. And if you see something like the post I’ve been talking about here, please, PLEASE do not re-post or share it! If you’ve found this post useful though, please do share.
A footnote. Vinegar or salt water may not kill cells infected with the virus, but your immune system will. There are two types of white blood cell that do just that. Natural killer cells (NKCs) and killer T-cells. So alongside good hygiene, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is make sure that you are fit and well, so that your immune system is as strong as possible. Good diet, enough sleep and plenty of exercise are important in maintaining a strong immune system. Looking after your mental health is also vital, as there is a strong link between mental health and your immune system. In the list below there is a link to advice from Mind on taking care of your mental health which I can’t recommend enough, it has some fantastic advice 😀
Some good sources of reliable information:
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/ – This is a brilliant resource for anyone who has mental health issues; and excellent advice for taking care of your mental health generally.
https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/coronavirus – Epecific advice for those with diabetes.
https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/get-help/physical-help/cancer-and-coronavirus – A FAQ developed by a number of cancer charities for those living with cancer.
https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/coronavirus – Excellent advice from Marie Curie for those dealing with a terminal illness.
https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/coronavirus-covid-19/ – Great advice for those with asthma.
https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/coronavirus/ – Advice aimed at older people.