As we all try to navigate through this new world of COVID-19 vaccinations, there’s one aspect of this pandemic that seems to get overlooked—treating the virus once you’re infected.
Vaccines might be the best option for preventing an infection or for mitigating symptoms if you do contract the virus after getting the jab. But what is the best course of action when you test positive for COVID? What medicines should you take? Should you quarantine? Or, should you go to the hospital?
There hasn’t been a consensus among medical professionals when it comes to treating COVID, which makes it extremely hard to figure out the best course of action. Another factor that complicates things is that some people are asymptomatic, while others feel like they have a cold, and some end up fighting for their lives on a ventilator.
Amid this COVID uncertainty and constant misinformation, there is one thing that hasn’t changed—attempting to treat your symptoms with random products without guidance from your doctor is not the best course of action.
Apparently, the latest trend in at-home COVID treatments is gargling Betadine. But the experts say this is a pointless waste of time.
What Is Betadine?
Betadine is the brand name for a chemical compound known as povidone-iodine. When you use it for its intended purpose, it works extremely well. Betadine is an antiseptic solution that does provide infection protection. But that protection is against a variety of germs that cause infection in minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Not viral infections like COVID-19.
Betadine is commonly used as a topical antiseptic. But there is a version that’s less potent known as Betadine Sore Throat Gargle, which is used to ease sore throat symptoms. This is the product that’s popping up on social media as a COVID treatment, and the trend has caught the eye of some medical experts.
The Company’s Official Statement
Once Betadine started popping up on social media as a recommended treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, the company issued a statement on their website.
“Betadine Antiseptic First Aid products should only be used to topically treat minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. The First Aid products should not be used as a gargle. Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or any other viruses,” the statement read.
When it comes to the Betadine Sore Throat Gargle, the company explained that this product “is only for the temporary relief of occasional sore throat. Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID- 19 or any other viruses.”
Why Isn’t Betadine Successful In Killing COVID?
Dr. Schaffner gave several reasons why Betadine wouldn’t be successful in killing COVID in the human body. He explained that we actually inhale viruses beyond the throat down into the lungs. And he says you don’t want Betadine down in your lungs.
“If you think it may work, how often will you have to do this? Hourly? Before you go to the concert or the bar? Before you have a date? What’s your dosing interval?” Dr. Schaffner asks. “We have no idea because A) we don’t know it works, and B) we don’t know how frequently you have to do it to make it work.”
Lab Results Don’t Necessarily Translate To Real Life
There has been some research done about the possible links between gargling povidone-iodine and the reduction of viral loads. But according to Dr. William Schaffner—professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center—success in a lab doesn’t necessarily translate to real life.
“There actually have been a few very simple laboratory studies showing that Betadine, this fancy iodine, can kill certain strains of COVID,” Dr. Schaffner told Shape. “That’s a laboratory phenomenon. That doesn’t translate directly to effectiveness in prevention, and many people don’t understand that.”
The doc says that the history of medicine has plenty of examples of things that looked good in a lab, but never worked on humans in the real world.
“Although Betadine works in the laboratory, we don’t know that it works in the throat,” Dr. Schaffner explained.
The Delta Variant Feels Like A Bad Cold
If there is any “good” news amid this pandemic, it’s that many people who are testing positive for COVID now are experiencing zero symptoms. Or, if they do get sick, it feels like a bad cold.
“COVID is acting differently now. It’s more like a bad cold; people might think they’ve just got some sort of seasonal cold,” Tim Spector, professor of epidemiology at King’s College London, explained in a video released on YouTube by the COVID Symptom Study.
If it feels like a cold, is it smart to treat those symptoms with over-the-counter products like Betadine Sore Throat Gargle to try and get relief? This is a conversation you should have with your doctor. But, it’s clear that these products aren’t going to prevent COVID or treat the virus itself.
Don’t Swallow Betadine
Health professionals also warn about swelling Betadine, as it can be very dangerous.
“It’s not a four-alarm warning, but it is a caution: You want to avoid swallowing this product because it can upset your intestinal tract and make you nauseous,” Dr. Schaffner advises. “It can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.”
Dr. Andre Noymer—associate professor of population health and disease prevention and public health at the University of California Irvine—agrees with Dr. Schaffner about the risks of swallowing or inhaling Betadine.
“I do worry, in particular, about people misting povidone-iodine into their nasal passages,” Dr. Noymer says. “The sinuses are close to the brain, and I worry about the migration of iodine into the central nervous system…please don’t go putting chemicals up into the nasal and sinus passages that don’t belong there.”
The bottom line is—if you test positive for COVID it’s time to call your doctor. Don’t get your treatment advice from Twitter.