Will salt water gargling, nose rinsing wash COVID-19 away?


A man in a video that went viral prescribed a salt solution as a cure for COVID-19.

He said rinsing the nose and gargling salt water is the treatment.

He did not make reference to any clinical trials or structure for this treatment.

He, however, said it was recommended to him and his wife by a doctor when they tested positive for the COVID-19. And four days after using it, they got cured.

“I tested positive—me and my wife—for COVID-19. We called the doctor and told him this is what is happening and he said, ‘No, it is not a deadly disease’. He said, ‘What you should do: take some salt in a spoon and take a half glass of water, put the salt in the glass of water….”

The man did not state who the doctor is, nor did he provide any verifiable evidence. He, however, referenced a religious text where a prophet made use of a salt  to cure or treat some water causing ailments.

The man also alleged that his daughter and granddaughter in the US, whom he recommended the treatment to, tested negative after a few days.

The same applied to his sister in Swaziland and a doctor’s mother in East London. All got cured after using his treatment.

In the 4 minutes and 43 seconds-long video, the man said he was prompted to share this remedy when his sister called him to take her to the hospital as she could not “breathe”.

Instead, he recommended the solution to her, which she applied and within 30 minutes she got relief.

“And within two days, she was okay. She is back to work now,” he said.

The salt solution

According to him, the salt solution is done by adding a spoon of salt to a half glass of water for nose rinsing.

A similar solution is done for gargling, except, this time, the water has to be warm.

…but does it cure COVID-19?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its myth busters section stated that saline (mixture of water and salt) does not cure the COVID-19.

The health body stated, “There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus.”

It, however, says,  “There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.”

Furthermore, the MIT Medicals (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in its coronavirus update also stated there was no evidence that gargling warm water with salt or a vinegar solution prevented infection with COVID-19.

The WHO graphics card debunking the use of salt as COVID-19 prevention.

A professor in Medical Microbiology and an expert in the management of infectious hazards, Adebola Olayinka when contacted in February and shown the video, explained that saline sprays as a medical treatment has been used for decades especially for children to reduce congestion on the nose.

“If someone has a blocked nose and there is mucus,  putting the saline spray can relieve the person of the congestion”, she noted.

As to this man’s claim of it healing COVID-19, she said “I have my doubts”.

She explained that people who have COVID-19  alongside cough and nasal congestions may get relief from the nasal infection if they use the saline spray. However, it does not mean that they have become COVID-19 negative.

“I think the danger is equating absence of symptoms to being cured of COVID-19. The symptoms might be relieved but that person is still infectious and is able to transmit the infection”.

Other misinformation around the use of salt

The MIT Medicals also added that this “cure” was popular during the spread of SARS, MERS, and Zika as well — and was equally useless then.

The use of salt was also prevalent in Nigeria during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. This led to fatal results, with many people hospitalised for salt poisoning almost more than with Ebola infection itself. The use of drinking and bathing with salt water was reported to have been started by a student as a prank.

A study  published in 2019 about the 2014 misinformation found that 52 per cent of people who used salt water did it because they felt there was no harm in trying it, while 39 per cent said it was because they saw some health officials doing same.

Study on salt solution and the cure for coronavirus

A study  led by Professor Aziz Sheikh and Dr Sandeep Ramalingam at the University of Edinburgh, known as the Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study, or Elvis, recruited healthy adults within two days of them contracting a type of upper respiratory tract infection commonly known as a cold.

The control group treated the cold as they normally would. The other group was asked to gargle and rinse their nasal passages with a salt solution at will.

The researchers found that 95% of those who gargled with salt water and used nasal irrigation reduced their illness by 1.9 days, because the virus cleared faster, they were less likely to spread the common cold.

Therefore, the researchers are re-examining the study to check if its benefits may also extend to COVID-19 patients, and they are calling it the  ELVIS COVID-19 Study.

A promotional video on the website reads, “COVID-19 causes fever, cough and other symptoms. The ELVIS COVID-19 study is to find out if you will get better quicker by rinsing the nose and gargling with salt water.”

As at the time of this report the study is still ongoing and the call is still on for participants.

A search result of the video using google image reverse search tool.

Who is spreading the misinformation?

In trying to determine the ‘message zero’, the first person to have shared it on WhatsApp was traced to February 2021, when it was shared by a retired director from the Nigerian civil service. However, the end-to-end encryption and privacy policies, coupled with limited time, made the attempt futile.

A search on the web using Invid fake news debunker, which broke the video into frames and the frames along with keywords “Salt cure covid”, reversed searched using Google reverse image tool, produced nine results from six sources.

The videos were posted on Facebook and they were all pages.  Three of the pages are dedicated to health, beauty & herbal remedy [Vicky Gold, Wholesale Alkaline Fruits, vegetables & herbsBeckytaTV], while one is a support page [Tell Tessys Inspirational Corner], another is a blogging page [Jenny’s Talk Show] and the other [Enogie Ekunwe] was not stated. Further search also brought out another [Milly Beauty Products].

Using ‘whereisthatnumberfrom’, a  web application  lookup tool that helps users check the country and area of phone number, the phone numbers associated with the pages turned out to be from Germany [Inspiration], Ghana [wholesale] and Zambia [Milly Beauty].

Some of the pages have phone numbers associated with different countries.

This suggests that the video was circulated in multiple other countries aside Nigeria.

Five of the posts were made at different points in February while the sixth one was in June.

As at June 30, the latter has garnered over 18,000 views and 79 comments, generally thanking the poster. Only one comment stated to proceed with caution to avoid “aspiration pneumonia”.

Most of the pages posted it as some form of herbal remedy.

The use of herbal remedy and home-made remedy in Nigeria is not uncommon.

As the race to create vaccines for coronavirus is ongoing, multiple influential leaders in Nigeria and Africa are promoting herbal medicines and remedies.

One of Nigeria’s most influential traditional rulers, Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, in collaboration with a herbal company in February unveiled herbal drugs for the treatment of coronavirus.

The monarch said the Federal Government was aware of the drug and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had approved it.

However, the drugs, Verozil, Bitter Leaf Capsule, Vision Pro and Rio Capsule, were not found on the NAFDAC registered product database as at the time of this report.

Furthermore, the agency said the herbal product Verozil, announced as a cure for COVID-19, was only an immune booster, and listed as such accordingly because it was yet to be found to be effective against the virus, as clinical trial evidence was yet to be provided.

The governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, who was reported to have contracted COVID-19, a few days later came out to say he was negative. He stated that he  consumed Vitamin C, carrots and black seed oil mixed with honey to boost his immune system to overcome the virus while in isolation.

Even though the governor stated it was an immune booster, this was interpreted in some quarters as cure for the virus.

The video as posted on different Facebook pages.

Nigeria’s stand on use of herbal drugs for COVID-19

After receiving her vaccine injection, the Director-General of NAFDAC,  Mojisola Adeyeye, told the press,  “I believe in herbal medicine. Herbal medicine that is not backed up by research may be effective, but we don’t know.

“Especially for COVID-19 vaccine, herbal medicine has to be antiviral. It is not enough that it relieves cold, cough etc., it has to be antiviral.

“We have approved about 14 for listing, meaning they are safe to use, but how efficacious, it is when you do a clinical trial that you will know. Also, it is very costly to do clinical trials.

“Of course, we would have given them listing, but they will go further for a clinical trial. We are still expecting such. I will not be surprised if we have a herbal medicine that has antiviral against COVID-19.”

This is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine scholar, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Yichang Yang, said clinical trials were needed before the approval of any herbal medicine.

“More evidence is required through controlled clinical trials to support the efficacy of these herbal drugs,” Yang said.

“Many traditional medicine practitioners believe that herbal remedies cannot be tested because they are tailored to each individual’s syndromes. This argument is simply not convincing,” he explained.

This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting  (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored

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