By | 15th July, 2020

The news of the spread of the novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 has fueled disparate claims that a range of substances such as cow dung, cow urine, practicing yoga, drinking alcohol, eating garlic, homoeopathic and Unani medicines can prevent or cure the disease. However, the World Health Organization has categorically emphasised that there is no known preventive medicine or cure for COVID-19 yet, even as experts warn against misinformation and rumours.

The WHO has released graphics to tackle various myths and misinformation related to the novel coronavirus. Some of these include:

  • Spraying of alcohol or chlorine over the body will not kill viruses
  • Drinking of alcohol does not protect from COVID-19
  • No evidence that eating garlic has protected people from COVID-19
  • Sesame oil does not kill COVID-19
  • No specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat COVID-19
  • Antibiotics do not work against viruses, but only bacteria
  • Smoking does not protect against COVID-19

Here’s what experts say about some similar claims being made in India:

Claim: Cow urine/dung and yoga can prevent/cure COVID-19

Cow urine and cow dung could be used to treat coronavirus, said Suman Haripriya, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s legislator from Assam, on March 2, 2020.

“If you practice yoga, your immunity increases which can help save a person in case they are infected with the virus. If immunity is low, the person can not be saved,” said Baba Ramdev in a Feb 22, 2020 video.

Fact: “The claim that cow dung and urine or yoga can help only adds to the misinformation and fear-mongering,” Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health, bioethics and health policy told FactChecker.in. “This is not the time to be making such claims, rather we should be preparing to fight the disease scientifically. Making random claims around treatment or prevention is irresponsible whether it comes from the government or any other body.”

There is no vaccine or antiviral medicine yet to prevent or treat the new Coronavirus, the World Health Organization has said. Affected patients receive treatment to relieve symptoms. Likewise, the WHO has also emphasised that antibiotics do not work against viruses, but “if you are hospitalised for the 2019-nCoV, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.”

Claim: The government’s AYUSH ministry has recommended the use of Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic and Unani medicines to prevent the COVID-19, on January 29, 2020.

“There is no scientific evidence to support claims regarding use of natural remedies for COVID-19,” said G Arunkumar, director, Manipal Institute of Virology. “This is the time to ensure correct information is shared. For example, there is evidence that hand washing reduces transmission,” he told FactChecker.in.

The efficacy of homoeopathic (and other alternative treatments) that do not undergo clinical trials using the rigorous protocols accepted by the wider scientific community–as do allopathic drugs–is not widely accepted. Several public health systems such as the UK’s NHS do not offer homoeopathic treatment.

It is a bigger problem when such information comes from the State, as it tends to give  legitimacy to the statements. “But [it] also indicates that there is no coherence between the health ministry and the ministry/departments of Ayush,” said Bhan.

The health ministry has simply advised good hygiene such as washing hands frequently. When different arms of the government say different things, it becomes problematic, and the government needs to take “strict steps” to prevent misinformation, Bhan added.

Every official communication must be screened for scientific content and accuracy before release, Arunkumar emphasised.

What does work

The best way to protect against COVID19 is to frequently clean hands, cough into one’s elbow or a napkin and maintain a distance of at least one meter from a person who is coughing or sneezing, the WHO says.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Patients may also have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea, WHO states.

About 80% of patients recover without special treatment and some of those infected do not develop any symptoms or feel unwell at all. Only 1 in 6 infected people become seriously ill and develop difficulty in breathing.