Anti-vaxxers are gargling iodine in the latest ill-advised attempt at DIY anti-COVID care, say reports

By Bethany Dawson

Anybody who has to have surgery or any form of a major incision you'll be coated in a florescent orange liquid: povidone-iodine. 

The antiseptic treatment, best known under the brand name Betadine, is classed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine and is used around the world regularly to kill off any damaging microbes that can infect a person. 

But now, it's the latest ill-advised attempt at an at-home COVID-19 remedy for mainly anti-vaxx communities. 

No. Betadine® Antiseptic First Aid products have not been approved to treat coronavirus.
Betadine website

The manufacturers of Betadine have issued a statement online stating that the solution should only be used externally and cannot treat COVID-19. 

"Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or any other viruses."

When Kenneth Weinberg, an emergency room physician in New York City, was told in an interview with Rolling Stone that anti-vaxxers are gargling with Iodine, he - unimpressed - said: "Fuck me! Of course, they are."

 "There's no evidence that povidone-iodine [Betadine] has any impact on COVID-19," Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health.

Mouthwashes of povidone-iodine do exist - but they won't stop you from getting COVID-19, doctors say

Instead, it poses imminent risks - especially if you accidentally swallow some.

High doses of povidone-iodine could also cause kidney problems, Dr. Adalja told Health, as well as interrupting thyroid function, causing damage to a person's mucus membranes and skin, and even cause pulmonary irritation and shortness of breath.

Cassandra M. Pierre, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician and the medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, told Health that there is currently no reliable data to suggest that the at-home use will help stop you from getting COVID-19. 

It's unclear how the idea that Iodine can treat COVID-19 emerged. One thought is that two studies - one proposed that Iodine might be useful in surgery to stop COVID-19 from patient to healthcare worker, and another stated that lab results show the antiseptic could work against COVID-19 - has been misinterpreted. 

The first study shows that it might help the spread of COVID-19 once the infection is already in place. 

The second is only applicable to a lab setting.