A medical officer conducts a Covid-19 coronavirus test on a woman in southern Thailand's Yala province. (AFP / Tuwaedaniya Meringing)

Health experts warn against using zinc as coronavirus treatment

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

A video viewed thousands of times on Facebook and YouTube shows a purported doctor claiming that consuming a "high concentration" of zinc treats Covid-19 infection. The claim is false: health experts say there is insufficient evidence that zinc can treat Covid-19 infection and warn consuming large amounts of it could be harmful. 

The three-minute four-second video was shared here on YouTube on May 11, 2021.

It was published on the YouTube channel “Drcanthelp”.

The video’s Thai-language caption translates to English in part: “3 things that help prevent the virus from entering the throat.”

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on June 2, 2021

At the video's ten-second mark, the purported doctor says: “Actually when we contract Covid it will usually enter through the nostrils, through our throat.

“Before it enters the lung it will remain in our throat, therefore the method we can prevent it from becoming severe is to first reduce the virus in the throat.”

Then at the clip’s 33-second mark, he says: “Zinc, which is available in the form of candy, can help kill the virus, and minimise the virus-cell division. In the test tube, when we drop zinc the virus will die. So if we put a great amount and high concentration of zinc in the mouth, it can really help you. If the taste is bad, you can eat it with other candies.”

The YouTube channel has a corresponding Facebook page with more than 370,000 followers.

The Facebook page's Thai-language description reads: “Doctor Autt who works as an expert on combination cancer therapy with Dr. Thomas Lodi in Phuket.”

A shorter version of the same video was posted here on Drcanthelp’s Facebook page on May 28, 2021. It has been viewed more than 10,000 times.

The claim circulated online as Thailand's Covid-19 vaccination drive lagged behind that of most countries in Southeast Asia. The kingdom has recorded more than 165,462 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to an AFP tally on June 4, 2021.

An identical claim was shared here, here and here on Facebook.

The claim is false, health experts say.

Unproven treatment

Zinc is a mineral, as noted by US medical publisher WebMD. Common dietary sources of zinc -- which is necessary for human health -- include red meat, poultry, and fish. 

Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, an infectious disease specialist at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, told AFP that “there is no clear information about taking Zinc to treat Covid-19”.

He said people should only consume zinc within its prescribed daily dietary guidelines.

“If you take anything more than you should, it will always cause problems,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health says adults should only consume a maximum of 40mg of zinc per day.

Bodin Tuesuwan, an assistant professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Pharmacy, also told AFP there is “not enough information to definitively say the effectiveness of zinc in curing the virus infection.”

He added: "There is no necessity to take supplements for normal people.”

Ian Jones, professor of virology at Britain’s Reading University, told AFP: “Zinc is a toxic metal and although it does indeed inhibit some virus enzymes, the level required would not be tolerated in the body".

Despite there being no credible evidence to support his claims, Dr. Autt told AFP that he stood by his comments in the video.

He said: "Zinc has been proven to be able to negate viruses. As for Covid-19, it is something new, there is no research paper on this new disease. So what I’ve done is apply methods that have been proven to work with other coronaviruses in the past.”

AFP has previously debunked multiple other claims for purported cures for Covid-19, including here and here.