Salt water could treat Covid-19, according to scientists who will test whether the unusual remedy really works.
Gargling salt water has been found to reduce the symptoms of cough and colds and prevent them from getting worse, researchers say.
And now they want to find out if it can help people with mild symptoms of the coronavirus, which similarly infects the respiratory system.
Experts from the University of Edinburgh are recruiting people to take part in a study to test whether gargling with salt water can boost the body’s antiviral properties.
Knowing how to treat Covid-19 is still a gray area for doctors, advising people with mild symptoms to adhere to acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Two antivirals are approved for use by NHS in critically ill patients, the steroid dexamethasone and an ebola remedy – but no silver bullets, either.
Edinburgh scientists now want to find out if the low-cost saltwater option can help people with mild infections and also prevent them from getting more seriously ill.
Researchers who found gargling salt water could reduce cough or cold symptoms are now starting a trial to see if it helps Covid-19 patients (stock image)
The idea for the study came from ongoing research into upper respiratory infections – which often cause coughs and colds.
People with these diseases were shown to benefit from regular gargling with salt water in a trial called ELVIS (Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study).
Results from the ELVIS study, published last year, showed that people who gargled salt had less severe coughs, less congestion, and a cold that lasted two days less on average.
They were also less likely to pass on the cold to family members or resort to taking medicine from a pharmacy, compared to people who didn’t gargle.
The Edinburgh team, whose original study included a different type of coronavirus, thinks the salty water can boost the body’s natural virus-fighting mechanisms, which are activated when they get sick.
They suggested that direct contact with salt has a toxic effect on the viruses themselves, or that it stimulates ‘innate immune mechanisms’ in cells in the airways.
Salt can also be used by the body’s cells to make a chemical called hypochlorous acid, which is found in bleach and known to kill viruses, the researchers said.
Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the Usher Institute at Edinburgh University, said: ‘We are now going to test our salt water intervention in people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, and hope it will prove a useful measure to reduce the impact and spread of the infection.
HOW CAN SALTWATER GARGLING TREAT THE CORONAVIRUS?
Researchers at Edinburgh University tested saltwater gargling and ‘nasal irrigation’ in a trial of people with upper respiratory infections, also known as coughs and colds, and found that they reduced their symptoms and the duration of their illness.
Their study, published in the journal Scientific reports Last year, 93 percent of people found that gargling reduced their symptoms, that their illness lasted two days less on average, and that they were 35 percent less likely to pass it on to a family member.
Scientists hope that the inexpensive, simple therapy may have similar benefits for people with the coronavirus, reducing the severity of their cough and preventing the disease from getting worse.
Explaining how the salt could achieve this effect, the study said direct contact with salt can have a toxic effect on the viruses themselves, damaging or killing them.
It could also boost ‘innate immune mechanisms’ in cells in the airways, they suggested, enabling the body to fight infection.
Salt can also be absorbed and used by the body’s cells to make a chemical called hypochlorous acid, which is found in bleach and known to kill viruses, the researchers said.
“It only requires salt, water and some knowledge of it [gargling] procedure, so if it proves to be effective, it should be easily – and not expensive – widely implemented. ‘
The study is open only to adults living in Scotland who have symptoms of Covid-19 or have recently received a positive test for the virus.
It is expected to work the same way as the previous one, with some participants gargling salt water while others going down, all following the same locking rules.
In the cough and cold study, people kept diaries of their symptoms for two weeks and reported to the scientists, who compared which group performed best.
The NHS currently only has treatments for critically ill coronavirus patients, and they still don’t work for everyone.
One is the steroid dexamethasone, which could reduce the death rate in intensive care patients by up to a third, according to a study.
And the second is an ebola drug called remdesivir, which has shown promising results in shortening recovery times.
Both are approved for use by NHS, specifically for Covid-19 patients – for many of the British outbreaks, doctors were limited to experimenting with any antiviral and antibiotic they could find.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the trial success of dexamethasone – announced on June 16 – as the “biggest breakthrough yet” in the treatment of coronavirus.
He said at a news conference: ‘I am absolutely delighted that the biggest breakthrough yet has been made by a fantastic team of scientists here in the UK …
“I think there is a real reason to celebrate a remarkable British scientific achievement [and] the benefits it will bring not only in this country but all over the world. ‘
Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the results as ‘stunning’.
First made in the 1950s, dexamethasone is usually given to treat ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and some cancers. It’s already licensed and proven to be safe, meaning it can be used immediately in human patients, and it’s a generic drug, meaning it can be manufactured cheaply and massively by companies around the world.
Results from the RECOVERY study, which involved 6,000 Covid-19 patients and were led by Oxford University scientists, suggest that the steroid may prevent death in one in eight ventilated coronavirus patients and one in 25 on respiratory support . It is the first study to show that treatment has a significant impact on reducing the risk of death.
But the drug – given as an injection or a tablet once a day on the NHS – did not benefit people who were hospitalized with the virus but did not need oxygen.
Heads of health said they had imposed a ban to prevent companies from exporting the drug to other countries to protect UK supplies.
They have already stored 200,000 cycles of the drug for British patients after purchasing it prior to the results of the trial.
Professor Martin Landray, lead investigator, said dexamethasone could have saved up to 5,000 lives if used during the British crisis. He said, “If you were to design a drug that treats coronavirus, it would be exactly as you hope it works.”
The steroid prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation, an annoying Covid-19 complication that makes breathing difficult. The lungs become so inflamed in critically ill patients that they find it difficult to work.