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Fact Check: Can inhaling steam prevent COVID-19? No, the viral claim is false

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The viral claim that that inhaling steam can kill the Coronavirus is false. Multiple credible health organizations including WHO and UNICEF have dismissed the claim and clarified that inhalation of steam does not prevent one from catching COVID-19.

Amid the soaring COVID-19 cases, a message is being widely shared on social media platforms providing some crucial information about the second phase of Coronavirus and advising people to take steam inhale steam to kill the virus. 

The viral message is being widely forwarded on WhatsApp.

The viral message states that to kill the Coronavirus that is hidden behind the paranasal sinus, one should take steam. The message further states that at 50°C, this virus becomes paralyzed. At 60°C it becomes weak and at 70°C this virus dies completely.

The excerpt from the viral message advising people to inhale steam reads, "Important Message for all: The hot water you drink is good for your throat. But this corona virus is hidden behind the paranasal sinus of your nose for 3 to 4 days. The hot water we drink does not reach there. After 4 to 5 days this virus that was hidden behind the paranasal sinus reaches your lungs. Then you have trouble breathing. That's why it is very important to take steam, which reaches the back of your paranasal sinus. You have to kill this virus in the nose with steam. At 50°C, this virus becomes disabled i.e. paralyzed. At 60°C this virus becomes so weak that any human immunity system can fight against it. At 70°C this virus dies completely. This is what steam does. One who stays at home should take steam once a day. If you go to the market to buy vegetables, take it twice a day. Anyone who meets some people or goes to office should take steam 3 times a day. Forward this to all your loved ones. Steam week  According to doctors, Covid -19 can be killed by inhaling steam from the nose and mouth, eliminating the Coronavirus.  If all the people started a steam drive campaign for a week, the pandemic will soon end. So here is a suggestion: 
* Start the process for a week morning and evening, for just 5 minutes each time, to inhale steam.  If all adopt this practice for a week  the deadly Covid-19 will be erased. This practice has no side effects either.  So please send this message to all your relatives, friends and neighbours, so that we all can kill this corona virus together and live and walk freely in this beautiful world."

Fact Check

However, in our investigation, we found the claim that inhaling steam 70°C can kill the Coronavirus is false. The World Health Organisation has dismissed the viral claim and clarified that inhalation of steam does not prevent one from catching COVID-19. They had also cautioned that extremely hot steam can be harmful to humans, as there is a risk of burn injury. The claim has also been debunked by UNICEF through a fact-check story that coronavirus dies within five minutes at 70°C. PIB also stated that there is no scientific evidence to prove inhaling hot water steam kills coronavirus. 

On performing a relevant keyword search, we found a Facebook post by WHO clarifying that steam inhalation does not prevent one from catching COVID-19. Also, they cautioned that extremely hot steam can be harmful, as there is a risk of burn injury. 

Also, neither WHO  nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include steam inhalation in the list of measures to protect against the virus.

In a fact-check story, UNICEF has debunked the claim that ‘coronavirus dies within five minutes at 70°C’ and declared information as incorrect. As per this story, when they contacted the Institute of Public Health of Montenegro (IJZ CG) seeking clarification, the institute said, ‘As for the evidence of survival – evidence is only available from “in vitro” studies – that is, from experiments that analyzed the survival of the virus under ideal conditions. In ideal conditions, the virus can survive for several days, but its numbers decline dramatically in the environment after that time. We cannot suggest precise timeframes, but two weeks is certainly not even close to what has been proven in the lab.’

The Press Information Bureau's fact-checking arm, PIB Fact-Check also took to Twitter and wrote, "There is no scientific evidence to prove that inhaling hot water steam kills #Coronavirus. Remember: Respiratory hygiene, social distancing, and washing hands are effective measures to prevent #Covid19 Let’s spread facts, not fear and contribute to #IndiaFightsCoronavirus."

What does Doctor say?

Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, HOD, pulmonology, Manipal Hospitals , who has been treating Covid cases since March, said steam inhalation for a week is “very unscientific”. “We have seen patients coming in with respiratory symptoms not due to Covid, but because of the scalding of airways. Such cases have a history of steam inhalation. Unscientific steam inhalation is probably going to burn the airways, causing problems much worse than Covid”.

Dr Mysore further said he had more cases of people with damaged airways in March, April, and May 2020 when fear of the virus was at its peak. “I have seen cases of worsening asthma symptoms due to increased steam inhalation”.

Dr Thomas Mathew, professor and HOD, neurology, St John’s Medical College Hospital, said essential oil-induced seizures (EOIS) are a big concern. “People must avoid adding essential oils, eucalyptus oil and pain balm to water while inhaling steam. These stimulate the brain and cause seizures. We see at least two such cases every month”.

In conclusion, the viral claim that that inhaling steam 70°C can kill the Coronavirus is false. Multiple credible health organizations including WHO and UNICEF have dismissed the claim and clarified that inhalation of steam does not prevent one from catching COVID-19.

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