FACT CHECK: ANCYL’s promotion of steam and pH ‘cures’ for COVID-19
The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in Tshwane, South Africa, came under fire in the second week of January 2021 for sharing false COVID-19 remedies.
The ANCYL is the youth wing of the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling political party, and was founded in 1944.
In January 2021, two graphics attributed to the organisation began circulating online. One promoted the consumption of “alkaline foods” to “eliminate” COVID-19 and the other encouraged people to inhale steam to “paralyse” the virus.
Africa Check has debunked both of these claims before. In this report, we revisit the facts.
CLAIM: You can ‘eliminate’ the virus that causes COVID-19 by consuming alkaline foods.
Africa Check first debunked the claim that you can beat COVID-19 by eating alkaline foods that have a higher pH level than the virus in March and again in November 2020.
Nicholas Gongolo Munyai, the ANC Youth League’s regional spokesperson for the greater Tshwane area, told Africa Check that the poster about the pH of foods was mistakenly sent out without being edited. It was a draft not intended for release and should be disregarded, he said.
pH SCALE ENDS AT 14
The poster, which carries the logo of the ANC Youth League, claims that the “pH level of coronavirus varies from 5.5 to 8.5”.
“Therefore all we have to do to eliminate the virus is to consume more alkaline foods above the acidity level of the virus”, it says. It lists foods, including lemon, garlic avocado and watercress, giving the pH of the latter two as 15.6 and 22.7 respectively.
‘CORONAVIRUS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STOMACH’
According to Tanimola Akande, professor of public health at the University of Ilorin in western Nigeria, the coronavirus “does not have its own pH”. Other fact-checkers have also established that a virus in itself does not have a pH.
Oyewale Tomori, professor of virology with the World Health Organization (WHO), also said the claim about the pH of the new coronavirus was incorrect. He advised people to remind themselves how the virus spreads – through sneezing and coughing.
“Coronavirus has nothing to do with the stomach, so how do these ‘alkaline foods’, like lemon, lime, avocado and garlic, beat the virus? This claim should be ignored,” he previously told Africa Check.
CLAIM: Inhaling steam ‘paralyses’ SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Africa Check first debunked the claim that COVID-19 can be cured using hot steam in March 2020 and again in April 2020. The claim was repeated in May 2020 by Tanzanian president John Magufuli. It has re-emerged on another ANCYL poster, shared to the Tshwane branch’s Facebook page on 10 January 2021.
The poster calls on people to “steam two or three times a day” whether they test positive for COVID-19 or not. It claims that if one steams using eucalyptus oil or Vicks, a mentholated topical ointment, and hot stones “the virus becomes paralysed under extreme heat”.
Munyai, the ANC Youth League’s regional spokesperson, told Africa Check that the poster, which was a final version meant for publication, was not meant to reflect the advice of medical professionals. He said it was based on the personal experiences of individuals in the greater Tshwane area who felt that the “remedy” described had helped them recover from COVID-19.
Munyai stressed that this was not meant to take the place of treatment prescribed by a doctor.
VIRUS ‘NOT REACHED BY STEAM’
A small study of ten people in 2020 suggested that inhaling steam at temperatures between 55 and 65°C could reduce the number of virus particles shed in asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients. But the study concluded that the “observation is only preliminary, it has obvious limitations and the beneficial effects we observed need confirmation in a controlled trial”.
The researchers said that the steaming could not be used to eradicate the virus from the body “as the steam inhalation procedure can only reach upper airways”.
We could not find any evidence that steaming will “paralyse” the virus in an infected person or is a “remedy”. The WHO has previously said that exposing yourself to temperatures above 25°C will not protect you from COVID-19.
STEAM WON’T REACH VIRUS IN CELLS
Medical professionals have also previously told Africa Check that steam inhalation is unlikely to prevent or cure COVID-19.
“The virus in infected individuals is within cells and will not be reached by steam,” Alberto Escherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, told Africa Check.
Public health specialist Dr Atiya Mosam told South African publication the Mail & Guardian in December 2020 that while steam may help patients with congestion, it cannot be called a COVID-19 cure.
“Some of the home treatments can help one feel better, but we really cannot confirm anything that is said to cure COVID-19 right now. Steaming, for example, is like using hot water and that can only help open nasal blockage and pores but not cure COVID-19,” she said.
STEAMING CAN CAUSE INJURIES
But Tsumoru Shintake, a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, has previously warned that physically attempting to expose the nasal cavity to these temperatures is dangerous and could lead to serious burns. Temperatures in the nasal cavity usually range between 32 and 34°C, he said.
“Do not try [to inhale steam]. You will damage the epithelium cells in your nose,” he said.
According to the WHO, there is currently no licensed medication to cure COVID-19. The health agency advises that the most effective way to reduce risk of infection is through frequent hand washing, wearing masks in public, maintaining physical and social distance, and avoiding crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.