Mustard oil, alcohol and other virus health claims

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As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus epidemic, there’s been widespread sharing of health advice, ranging from the useless but relatively harmless to things that could be dangerous.

We’ve been looking at some examples and what the science says about them.

Drinking alcohol won’t stop the virus

This one has also come up regularly but is misleading and possibly harmful.

A politician has demanded the immediate opening of shops selling alcohol, closed during India’s lockdown.

“When coronavirus can be removed by washing hands with alcohol, then drinking alcohol will surely remove the virus from the throat,” said Bharat Singh, a senior member of the Congress Party, in Rajasthan state.

But there is no medical evidence for this.

And the World Health Organization (WHO) has made it clear drinking alcohol is not a way to stop the virus and could increase the risk of other health problems.

The only time the WHO and other official health bodies refer to using alcohol is as a component in hand-cleaning gels.

Holding you breath can’t tell you if you have the virus

The claim about holding your breath has surfaced in a many countries.

A popular yoga guru in India, Baba Ramdev, has said you should try holding your breath for a full minute if you’re young and healthy – 30 seconds for the elderly or those with underlying conditions.

If you can’t, he says, it indicates you have the virus.

But there is no scientific basis for this claim.

Mustard oil isn’t an effective treatment

The same Indian guru also suggests putting drops of mustard oil into the nostrils while doing the breathing test, claiming – again erroneously – the oil forces the virus out of the respiratory tract down into the stomach, where it is killed by acid.

  • How bad information goes viral

The guru, one of India’s most widely followed, has a vast business empire that sells a wide range of products.

The Indian government’s own fact-checking service has debunked the claim.

Disinfectant and UV light claims have been widely shared

Since US President Donald Trump raised the idea, in a press briefing last month, injecting patients with disinfectant might help treat coronavirus, it has been repeated – and often derided – in various forms on social media in many countries.

Using a disinfectant can kill viruses on surfaces.

But consuming or injecting disinfectant risk poisoning and death.

And there is no evidence it has any effect against the virus.

Mr Trump also talked of exposing patients to UV (ultraviolet) light.

And there is some evidence viruses do not last as long on surfaces when exposed to direct sunlight.

But it is very damaging to human tissue.

And there is no evidence UV light is an effective treatment for anyone with the virus.

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