Debunking viral COVID-19 remedies

12 June 2020

Written by: Amaal Mohamud

A social media specialist and a nutritionist discuss the dangers of fake cures during the pandemic.

In times of a global pandemic, misleading information can spread rapidly on social media. During the COVID-19 crisis sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp found themselves with a significant amount of fake news and fake coronavirus cures. Although the spread of these so-called “virus preventing” remedies may have good intentions behind them, they can cause many health risks.

Among the many remedies found on the internet, tricks involving saltwater, drinking alcohol and adding pepper to meals gained the most popularity, as they claimed to help prevent the coronavirus.

Most of these viral “cures” originate from social media posts that are uploaded by unqualified users—some with large platforms—which can have a dangerous impact on trusting followers. Social Media Specialist Mel Kettle says misinformation is everywhere and believes there’s been an increase due to people relying on social media for their news and advice during this pandemic.

“During times of change, panic or otherwise, people always want to know what’s going on,” she told upstart.

“Unfortunately, there are also too many people who like to prey on other people’s insecurities and take advantage of fear and anxiety. And then there are people who think they are doing the right thing by sharing information that looks legit, however it’s not.”

“Many people also share content without actually reading or watching what they are sharing, especially if the content links to an article or video.”

As a result of the constant wave of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, social media sites are now taking control over the spread. In a joint industry statement from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Google and Microsoft, the companies announced they were working closely to eliminate the spread of harmful information on the coronavirus and are promoting “authoritative content” on their platforms.

Although these platforms have taken control in regulating misinformation, it’s difficult to ensure every post has scientific evidence behind it. According to Kettle, the spread of misinformation can increase when social media influencers are involved.

“It’s also incredibly quick and easy to share social media posts, meaning something that looks legitimate, or something posted by a celebrity, can be shared thousands of times in minutes. It’s easy to assume something so popular is real,” Kettle said.

Kettle says it’s important to make conscious choices when it comes to the information we find on the internet and urged people to not believe everything you see.

“Do your own research. If something looks too good to be true, then ask questions. Know who and where the credible sources of information are and seek those out. Also curate your social media feed. Unfollow or block people you know [who] spread misinformation and incite fear. Use the mute option for people, groups and keywords that cause you concern.”

Nutritionist Taylor Steet says the information we choose to follow on social media, including coronavirus advice, should be from qualified healthcare professionals.

“If you are suffering from an illness or a condition, I advise consulting a healthcare practitioner directly rather than taking advice on social media,” she told upstart.

Steet commented on some of the common viral remedies, and addressed the truth behind them.

Gargling saltwater.

It was recently reported that a group of medics thought that gargling saltwater could potentially “kill off” the virus, but according to Steet and other health professionals, that’s not the case.

“Gargling saltwater can help soothe a sore and irritated throat. Whilst it can provide some relief for soreness or a throat tickle, it is not a remedy recommended to alleviate a virus, but rather something we can do to help control symptoms,” she said.

Adding pepper to your soup or any other meal.

This was a hoax shared on Twitter under the hashtag #cureforcoronavirus claiming that adding pepper to meals cured COVID-19.

“Black pepper is a great addition to meals to add flavour, and some studies suggest anti-microbial benefits of black pepper. However, black pepper should be used as part of a healthy and flavoursome diet and not used to try cure bacterial or viral infections,” Steet said.

Drinking alcohol.

A deadly misconception spreading across the globe was that drinking bootleg liquor such as methanol could prevent contracting the virus.

“Drinking alcohol is not a cure for any virus or illness,” Steet said.

“Binge drinking or heavy drinking is known to reduce the functioning of our immune cells, whilst increasing the susceptibility of developing bacterial and viral infections due to reduced immunity.”

Lemon slices in warm water.  

There have been a variety of claims involving different methods on consuming lemons, most have suggested adding lemons to hot or warm water can kill the coronavirus.

“Lemons are rich in vitamin C which help support our immune function and even assist with combating fatigue, however when suffering from a virus we need thorough professional care and should be consulting in a qualified practitioner to assist with proper immune support targeted to the specific virus.”

Steet also discussed home remedies including garlic, onions and sipping water every 15 minutes, saying that although they provide plenty of health benefits to individuals, they should not be used to cure the coronavirus.

“Attempting to self-treat a virus such as COVID-19 poses many health risks and can be very dangerous, not only for the patient, but also for the people surrounding the patient from day to day,” she said.


Article: Amaal Mohamud is a second-year Media and Communications student (Media Industries) at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @amaalmvh

Photo: By Engin Akyurt available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. This image has not been modified.