Dealing with the global coronavirus outbreak is uncharted territory – and as the virus continues to spread, so does misinformation on how to protect yourself and others.
One photo being widely circulated online by well-meaning friends and family suggests that coronavirus can be stopped in its tracks if people gargle with salt water or vinegar after contracting the illness.
However, Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert and professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, says the advice detailed in the image is incorrect.
“The information in the image is absolute rubbish,” he tells HuffPost UK. “The virus only grows inside the body’s cells so drinking water, even with vinegar, will do no good whatsoever.”
The original source of the image is unknown. Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist at the University of Sussex, says confusion may stem from the fact there’s limited evidence to suggest gargling can reduce the duration of some upper respiratory tract infections. However, this can not be translated to coronavirus.
“There are very few studies that are small and not well controlled – they come from Japan where gargling is common practice,” she tells HuffPost UK. “However, the evidence is weak and we do not know if this would be effective against coronavirus.”
Gargling salt water is also one of ways the NHS recommends soothing a regular sore throat and some doctors have suggested it may have more general oral hygiene benefits. But again, there’s nothing to suggest it cures coronavirus.
Dr Macciochi points out that in these stressful times, people may make hopeful leaps in the quest for a solution. “As with many things, there is often a kernel of scientific evidence which in this case has been blown out of all proportion in these desperate and uncertain times,” she says.
Another viral post doing the rounds suggests holding your breath can be a way of self-diagnosing coronavirus, but this has been discredited by the Department of Health and Social Care and is not advised.
Instead of sharing medical advice from unknown or unverified sources, Dr Macciochi recommends focussing your efforts on taking hygiene and tissue etiquette seriously, social distancing, cancelling unnecessary travel as per government guidelines, and staying updated and informed – but not panicking.
She adds: “If ever there was a time to stop smoking it’s now. Reduce alcohol and get good quality sleep. Focus on a food-first approach, supplements may even be detrimental. The only safe bets are vitamins c, zinc and vitamin D but these are not going to make you invincible.”