VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo misleads in suggesting gargling with salt water can prevent COVID infection

Read this fact check in Filipino

(UPDATED) Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo misleadingly implied that a person may prevent getting infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), by gargling with salt and water.

STATEMENT

During the March 16 episode of his hour-long talk show Counterpoint, produced by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the secretary commented on the rising daily number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Among his many claims, he said:

Isa lang ho ang solusyon diyan (rising cases) — mag mask, mag face shield, mag distansya, maghugas ng kamay. ‘Yun lang naman ho eh. Mag gargle kayo. May nabasa na naman ako; tama ‘yung mga sinasabi na gargle with salt and water. O kaya ‘yung pinapang-gargle niyo pagkagagaling niyo sa labas. Lahat ho ‘yan eh.

(There is only one solution — wear a mask, wear a face shield, keep [your] distance, wash [your] hands. That’s it, really. You [should] gargle. I again read [something], what [people] have said about gargling with salt and water is correct. Or, whatever it is that you gargle with when you come from outside. It’s all of these, really.)

Source: RTVMalacanang, Counterpoint by Secretary Salvador Panelo 3/16/2021, March 17, 2021, watch from 7:49 to 8:26
FACT

There is “no scientific evidence that suggests using mouthwashes, rinses, and gargling solutions will prevent COVID-19 infection,” according to a global team of public health experts convened by international nonprofit Meedan.

An April 2020 advisory by MIT Medical, a health service established by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, likewise said there is no evidence that gargling with salt water will “stop infection with COVID-19 or any other virus.” It added:

“Interestingly, this ‘cure’ was popular during the spread of SARS, MERS, and Zika as well — and was equally useless then.”

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In its March 18 explainer published on its online health desk, the Meedan team cited a June 2020 study that suggested gargling with salt water “may be effective at reducing the symptoms and severity of COVID-19.”

The study was a post-hoc secondary analysis of data collected in a 2019 randomized controlled trial in Scotland, which “indicated” that “hypertonic saline (salt and water mixture) nasal irrigation and gargling reduced the duration of coronavirus upper respiratory tract infection by an average of two-and-a-half days.”

Thus, the study added, “it may offer a potentially safe, effective[,] and scalable intervention” for people with COVID-19. However, the researchers warned that the findings in the 2020 post-hoc analysis “need to be interpreted with caution.”

Similarly, the Meedan team of experts said:

“...evidence has not demonstrated any instance of saline nasal irrigation and/or gargling at preventing COVID-19, and that gargling is not by any means a recommended standalone cure or treatment.”

“[T]his area is highly under-researched and needs additional evidence to understand the impact of salt water gargling on COVID-19,” it added.

While gargling with salt water may help ease symptoms of sore throat, the Department of Health (DOH), in a March 2020 advisory, said there is “no evidence” that it can “eliminate” the COVID-19 virus. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Gargling water with salt, vinegar DOES NOT ‘remove’ coronavirus)

In an email to VERA Files Fact Check on March 26 this year, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire said “substantive proof is necessary before [DOH] can endorse the use of salt water gargle as a preventive measure” for the disease.

The department, however, “remains open to new therapeutic regimens and innovations for COVID-19,” she added.

In its Q&A article on COVID-19, published in October last year, the World Health Organization said it “does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19.”

Read more fact checks and stories related to the ongoing pandemic here.


Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect DOH’s response to VERA Files’ query on the matter.


Sources

RTVMalacanang, Counterpoint by Secretary Salvador Panelo 3/16/2021, March 17, 2021

Health-desk.org, What do we know about mouth and nose rinses, washes, sprays, or creams to prevent COVID-19?, March 18, 2021

MIT Medical, Will gargling wash the virus away?, April 13, 2020

Ramalingam, S., Graham, C., Dove, J., Morrice, L., & Sheikh, A. (2020). Hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling should be considered as a treatment option for COVID-19., Journal of Global Health, 10(1). Retrieved from: http://jogh.org/documents/issue202001/jogh-10-010332.pdf.

Ramalingam, S., Graham, C., Dove, J., Morrice, L., & Sheikh, A. (2019). A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold. Scientific Reports. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-37703-3.

Cambridge Dictionary, “Saline,” Accessed March 22, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sore Throat (See “How to Feel Better), Accessed March 22, 2021

Department of Health, “Fact Check: Ang ipinakikitang Advisory ay walang katotohanan…,” March 17, 2020

World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Oct. 12, 2020

Department of Health, Email response, March 26, 2021


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

FOR FURTHER READING

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Payo ni Panelo na pagmumumog ng tubig na may asin maaaring makaiwas sa COVID nakaliligaw

Nakapanlilinlang ang ipinahiwatig ni Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo na maaaring…

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Gargling water with salt, vinegar DOES NOT ‘remove’ coronavirus

This has been debunked by the Department of Health. It has also been fact-checked in six continents.

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Salty and sour foods DO NOT cause SARS-CoV-2 to ‘explode and dissolve’

It does not protect one from or kill the virus causing COVID-19.

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