Covid-19 fact check: Can steam inhalation or gargling release virus particles in the air?

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A video recently surfaced on social media in which a doctor advises COVID patients against steam inhalation and gargling, claiming it leads to the transmission of the virus.

“When patients with COVID do gargling or steam inhalation, they release virus particles in the air. These particles can travel several metres and they can stay suspended in the air for several hours. This is a major cause of the spread within families and indoor spaces,” Dr Tushar Shah says in the video, adding one should avoid these practices.

Dr K Shanmugam, assistant chief medical officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute, however, disagrees. “Gargling and steam inhalation doesn’t release any virus into the air,” says the doctor. Besides, when a person tests positive for coronavirus, they are supposed to maintain isolation and avoid contact with other members of the family.

Dr Shanmugam adds, “When there is a cough or sneeze, the droplets carry the virus and transmit infection. The largest droplets settle out of the air rapidly, within seconds to minutes. The smallest very fine droplets, and aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry, are small enough that they can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.”

Dr Vikas Maurya, director, pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, also tells the outlet that the claims about steam inhalation or gargle spreading the virus are not true.

Steam inhalation and gargling are the most widely used home remedies to soothe nasal passages and relieve the symptoms of cold and sinus infection.

However, while steam inhalation does provide relief, one should note that it is not a cure for COVID. “Steam helps always but it is not a cure. Doesn’t matter if you put tulsi, neem or ginger. If you have covid like symptoms or/and have tested positive please consult a doctor. Do not take matters into your own hands. These are temporary relief measures that will make you feel better. But they will not make you negative or cure you,” adds Dr Maurya.

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