Could mouthwash be a coronavirus miracle cure?

Briana Warsing May 22, 2020
Could mouthwash be a coronavirus miracle cure?

You may have seen headlines claiming mouthwash is a coronavirus cure and moved on. It’s not the first ‘miracle cure’ to have been touted – but this one could turn out to be legit.

A team of researchers has the world buzzing with the prospect they have a lead on a cure for SARS-CoV-2. This is the virus that causes covid-19. Based on emerging studies that demonstrate the importance of the throat and salivary glands as sites of virus replication, scientists say mouthwash may prevent the virus from replicating in its early stages. However, they add this is an under-researched area and more study is necessary.

The team is from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. It is working with the universities of Nottingham, Colorado, Ottawa, Barcelona and Cambridge’s Abraham Institute. The team includes virologists, lipid specialists, microbicide and healthcare experts. Findings were published on 14 May in scientific journal Function.

The science

The team points to published research in which ingredients found in mouthwash – for instance, ethanol, povidone-iodine and cetylpyridinium – were found to disrupt the lipid membranes of several enveloped viruses.

A viral envelope is the outermost layer of many types of viruses. Not all viruses have envelopes but the most well known are influenza, Hepatitis C and HIV.

A 2019 article in Virology Journal describes the coronavirus envelope protein as a small, integral membrane protein involved in several aspects of the virus’ life cycle, such as assembly, budding, envelope formation and pathogenesis. The hope is interfering with the envelope surrounding the virus will have an impact on its life cycle.

Image by Belova59 from Pixabay

Current status 

Scientists don’t recommend you start ramping up your gargling just yet. Further study is required including evaluating formulations and clinical trials. Population-based trials using over-the-counter mouthwash could take place.

Listerine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson states on its website its Listerine mouthwash “has not been tested against the coronavirus and is not intended to prevent or treat covid-19”.

Debunked treatments

Mouthwash is the latest in a long list of possible antidotes for the virus.

A claim cannabis could protect against coronavirus appeared on YouTube. There has also been a petition to legalise the drug in Sri Lanka. 

In an article that appeared in Montreal Time Out, researchers at University of Lethbridge claimed at least a dozen strains of marijuana have shown promise in preventing the virus from latching on to a host in the mouth, intestines and lungs. However, they added more research was required. 

Gargling with salt water was another “cure” that made the social media rounds – but has been debunked. Generally speaking, gargling salt water may soothe a sore throat but it isn’t a cure for coronavirus.

United States president Donald Trump claims he has been doubling down on anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. In typical ‘Trumplish’ he told reporters: “What do you have to lose?”

A lot, as it turns out. Hydroxychloroquine can have serious side effects including muscle weakness and heart arrhythmia. It isn’t safe to take it “just in case”.

The World Health Organisation has a myth busters section on its website that explains the science behind novel ‘treatments’.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Stay two metres away from people who are not part of your household. If you have symptoms such as a new, continuous cough or fever, stay at home and isolate for seven days. Wear a mask in enclosed public spaces such as supermarkets and do your best to stop the spread. 

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Briana Warsing is a new Londoner by way of New York. Most recently she served as the editor and publisher of her local newspaper in New York City.