A man rests on a footpath under a Covid-19 painting in New Delhi on May 11, 2021 (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

Health experts warn against gargling potassium-based mixture to treat Covid-19

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A claim has circulated online in India that gargling a mixture of hot water and potassium alum "can save" people from Covid-19. But this claim is misleading. Global health experts warned of harmful side effects from using potassium alum, a salt-like substance used in industrial and cosmetic products. As of May 21, 2021, there is not enough scientific research to suggest potassium alum prevents or treats Covid-19.

The claim was shared in this video posted on Facebook on April 28, 2021.

Screenshot of the post, taken on May 19, 2021

The six-minute video is overlaid with Hindi-language text that states:  “One thing that can save you from Corona.”

Its caption translates as: "A piece of alum can save you from Coronavirus. Listen to his advice carefully, keep yourself and your family safe."

The video shows a Hindu monk who claims: "After your meal, mix potassium alum in a glass of hot water and mix it well around seven to eight times and gargle it with the water.

"As soon as the throat gets rinsed with alum water, coronavirus cannot enter your body through the mouth, and if the virus is already there it will get killed."

Potassium alum, also known as alum, is a salt-like substance with various industrial and cosmetic uses--from water purification to baking powder and deodorants.

The same video was also shared here and here on Facebook; here on Twitter; and here on YouTube.

However, these posts are misleading.

The World Health Organization’s South-East Asia office warned of harmful side effects from gargling alum water.

“Alum can cause irritation, burns, and respiratory issues. If inhaled, it may cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory irritations,” the agency told AFP in an email.

Health experts working with US-based nonprofit organisation Meedan have issued a similar warning.

"Aluminum salts have been safely used as adjuvants (ingredients that help vaccines build a stronger immune response) in vaccines for more than 70 years," the organisation said in this advisory on May 20, 2021.

"However, there is also evidence that having extremely high amounts of aluminum salts in our bodies can be harmful, causing problems that include memory loss."

"There is not enough research to suggest that aluminum salts could or should be used as a treatment for COVID-19."

India’s public information department also debunked the claim here on Twitter on May 6, 2021.

“In a video, it is being claimed that consumption of alum water can protect a person from Covid-19 and it can cure an affected person. This claim is false, when infected with Coronavirus, consult a trusted doctor for the right treatment,” reads the tweet.