Doctors Warn Against Using Betadine in Nose Wash or Mouthwash to Prevent COVID-19?

On September 2021, a Twitter user who claimed to be an emergency room doctor tweeted: "Don't get Covid. Prophylaxis is not that hard. Also nasal spray with a couple of drops [betadine] in it, and gargle with original Listerine."

Here's what you need to know about Betadine and COVID-19.

What exactly is Betadine?

Betadine is a popular brand name and is commonly associated with a chemical compound called povidone iodine or iodopovidone. It's a brownish liquid solution that's often used as a topical antiseptic—it can sterilize routine cuts and scrapes, or clean skin before stitches or surgical procedures, says Dr. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Betadine also has an antiseptic throat gargle made with 0.5% povidone iodine, but it's only meant to treat and relieve symptoms of a sore throat. There are also medicated douches—made with 0.3% povidone iodine—to help relieve minor vaginal irritation and itching.

Do take note that there is a difference between Betadine mouth gargle, Betadine cold defense nasal spray and 'adding Betadine into a nasal spray'. Betadine mouth gargle contain povidone iodine as the active ingredient whereas Betadine cold defence nasal spray has iota-carrageenan as it's active ingredient. Making Betadine into a nasal spray is a method made popular by the FLCCC I-MASK+ protocol where Betadine 10% solution is diluted into a 1% solution to be used as a mouth gargle and nasal spray.

Can Betadine help prevent COVID-19 at all?

One study, published as a research letter in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, sought to find if nasopharyngeal application of povidone iodine could reduce the viral load of patients with "nonsevere" COVID-19. Researchers chose 12 participants as a control group (meaning no intervention was taken) and 12 patients to rinse their mouths with a solution containing 1% povidone iodine solution four times, spray their nostrils with the same solution, and apply an ointment with 10% povidone iodine to their nostrils. They were instructed to do this four times a day for five days.

The study found that povidone iodine "may reduce the carriage of infectious SARS-CoV-2 in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19"—but that means it was found to only reduce the amount of virus in a person's nose when they're already infected with COVID-19. The povidone iodine solution also had some gnarly side effects: 42% of patients exposed to it experienced "thyroid dysfunction" as well as "unpleasant nasal tingling."

Overall, study authors concluded that more research needed to be done regarding povidone iodine's effect on excretion and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And the JAMA study wasn't the only one to look at povidone iodine (though it was the only one to look at its effect in actual humans). A Letter to the Editor published in the Journal of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery merely suggested the use of "topical povidone iodine to the upper aerodigestive tract." Another earlier JAMA study also found povidone iodine to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus—but only in a lab setting.

None of these studies specifically suggest that Betadine or povidone iodine can help prevent COVID-19, Cassandra M. Pierre, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician and the medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, tells Health. (Dr. Pierre wasn't affiliated with any of the studies). She says as of right now, "there's no reliable data" to suggest that povidone iodine can help prevent COVID-19 or its spread.

Recently, Betadine's manufacturer, Avrio Health, also published a statement on its website warning customers against using Betadine to prevent COVID-19: "Betadine Antiseptic Sore Throat Gargle is only for the temporary relief of occasional sore throat," the statement reads. "Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or any other viruses."

There are 12 published studies from 8 countries on povidone-iodine for COVID-19. You can check out the list and details on c19pvpi.com.

Povidone-iodine is no. 5 in this COVID-19 early treatment mortality drug league table:

Are there any dangers of using Betadine as a gargle or nasal spray?

According to Dr. Adalja, povidone iodine is commonly used for a gargle for sore throats, but accidentally ingesting it—whether you swallow it by mouth or put it up your nose and it drips down your throat—could cause gastrointestinal upset.

High doses of povidone iodine could also cause kidney problems, adds Dr. Adalja, along with potentially interfering with thyroid function (which is what happened in the JAMA study, too). Plus, according to Dr. Pierre, it may tarnish the color of a person's mucus membranes and skin, and even cause pulmonary irritation and shortness of breath,

There is, of course, another danger too: It's that people are using remedies like povidone iodine instead of the vaccine—which is proven to work. "It's odd because there's so much evidence for the vaccine, but people are turning to povidone iodine, which has little evidence," says Dr. Adalja.

For right now, the best, safest evidence-based methods for preventing COVID-19 (and staving off severe disease and hospitalization) remain to be vaccination and masking. "People are looking for a quick and easy fix," says Dr. Pierre. "But the quick and easy preventative measure that's actually safe and proven is getting the vaccine and continuing to wear a mask."


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