A Thai restaurant owner in Beijing prepares som tum, or papaya salad, for a customer (L) 03 July 2005 during a Thailand promotion fair at a city park. (AFP / Frederic J. Brown)

Eating papaya salad does not prevent COVID-19 infection, health experts say

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A video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which claims that eating papaya salad can help to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The claim is false; as of April 2020, health experts have said there is no evidence that papaya salad can prevent people from catching the virus; the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands regularly are the most effective methods of preventing infection. 

The video was published on Facebook here on April 11, 2020. It has been viewed more than 331,000 times and shared more than 8,700 times.

The one-minute 37-second video shows Dr. Pornthep Siriwanarangsan, the former director-general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, saying that eating papaya salad can protect people from COVID-19 infection.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post

At the video’s one-minute 15-second mark, Siriwanarangsan can be heard saying: "In papaya salad there is garlic and chilli, which are mucolytics that will help protect you from COVID-19."

The post's caption reads: “Do you want to eat papaya salad? Papaya salad, the menu for fighting against COVID-19 by Dr. Pornthep Siriwanarangsan”.

Papaya salad, locally known as som tam, is a popular dish in Thailand. Its main ingredient is green papaya, which is tossed in a dressing made of mixed spices.

The video has also been shared here on Facebook, here on Twitter and here on YouTube.

But the claim is false.

“It’s a bogus claim," Dr. Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, told AFP by phone on April 27, 2020.

“The most effective way to protect yourself from infection is to wash your hands regularly, wear facial masks, and keep social distance from 1-1.5 metres,” Woratanarat added.

As of April 2020, the WHO also maintains there is no medicine that can prevent or treat COVID-19. 

“To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019," the agency states in this Q&A page.

“If you want to protect yourself from getting infected with the new coronavirus, you should maintain basic hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices and avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.”

As of April 29, 2020, the WHO has reported more than 2.9 million infections and over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 worldwide.