Unless you live in a cave or have literally had your head in the sand these past few weeks, you are well aware that fears about the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, are rampant. While the earliest cases of the illness originated in Wuhan, China, it has since spread to six continents, fifty countries, and is now a bi-coastal disease in the United States. The first U.S. death due to COVID-19 infection occurred in the state of Washington, followed two days later by a second death in the same state. Within days of it being seen primarily in west coast states, cases of the illness arose in Rhode Island and New York. While most physicians and health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have been advising to be cautious but not to panic, many find that panic is the only option, as it seems every time one refreshes a browser, reports of new states, new countries, and new deaths pop up. Both brick and mortar as well as online stores have run out of water, masks (despite the fact that the CDC does not recommend use of masks for protection, unless you’re a healthcare worker caring for an infected individual), and apparently ramen noodles. Perhaps we’re all headed back to the college dorms to perfect our ramen noodle cooking skills?
Much worse than panicking over COVID-19 is taking the alternative medicine/herbal remedy route. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a subsection entitled the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health. Even this subsection states (in bold): There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by this virus. It follows with: “In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.” The latter statement refers in particular to herbs found in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A toxicology study published in 2015 found some of these herbs to contain pharmaceutical agents including warfarin (a blood thinner commonly known as coumadin), dexamethasone (steroids), and paracetamol (pain killers). In addition, heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium were found. Some remedies even contained DNA of a snow leopard. Cute.
False claims abound regarding prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infections, and seem to spread nearly as fast as the disease itself.
“Immune boosters will ward off COVID-19 infections”
“High dose Vitamin C will prevent it”
“Oregano Oil Proves Effective Against Coronavirus”
“Diet modification, including avoiding spicy foods, cold drinks, milkshakes, or ice cream will prevent the infection.”
“Drinking hydrogen peroxide will kill the virus”
A big fat “no” to all of the above, especially the bit about the ice cream. Sadly, even some physicians are sharing inaccurate recommendations regarding COVID-19. One pediatrician begins by providing sound information and recommendations on her site regarding incidence of the illness, methods of prevention, and signs to look for that should trigger concern. She then goes on to recommend elderberry, vitamin C, frankincense, and bone broth. Yes, there are disclosures that there is no hard data on any of this, but these remedies, especially when there are none to date that are available, will draw in any captive audience. While most of this stuff is harmless, it’s a waste of money and it will not treat or prevent any viral infection, let alone one caused by COVID-19.
Wellness influencers are recommending high-dose vitamin infusions, including vitamins A, C, and D, to prevent and treat coronavirus. There is no evidence that these can help. In fact, using extremely high doses of vitamins can lead to kidney and liver problems. Using too much vitamin A during pregnancy can lead to fetal abnormalities.
Besides it being wise to avoid claims for herbal remedies, steer clear of any scams that appear on social media, an email, a website link offering a “miracle cure,” claiming testimonials about conspiracy theories, offering “secret vaccines not released by the government,” or asking for money for fake fundraising efforts. And remember, “all natural” has nothing to do with being safe or effective. It’s a marketing term, and a poor one at that.
The CDC is continually updating its site regarding information about COVID-19. This will provide you the most accurate information, including information regarding travel advisories, risk assessment, prevention strategies, updates on testing, and treatments. Frankincense somehow didn’t make it to their site.