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  • A new video went viral claiming iodine can be used to help prevent COVID-19.
  • Experts say that is false and makes no sense because COVID-19 is the result of a virus, not bacteria.
  • Also, gargling and ingesting iodine solutions can be dangerous.

Getting medical advice solely from social media trends is usually not the best way to safeguard your health. Often, it can be dangerous.

A recent YouTube video that went viral on Facebook and Twitter is spreading incorrect information about how gargling the antiseptic iodine can prevent COVID-19 — an absolutely incorrect notion, according to experts.

The video was shared in April and has been viewed more than 155,000 times. According to the caption, doctors suggest gargling with povidone-iodine to prevent COVID-19 from entering the lungs.

None of this is true.

And it can even be dangerous if you end up swallowing the iodine.

“You should not ingest or gargle with iodine in order to prevent COVID-19,” said Dr. Theodore Strange, interim chair of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. “I don’t know where this idea came from. Iodine does have properties to be an antiseptic. We put it on cuts and lesions, and it has been used in mouthwash in the past. It cleanses the skin and kills bacteria. But COVID is not a bacteria. It is a virus.”

Iodine, in the proper amounts, can be good for the body.

The body cannot produce it on its own, so we must obtain it from food. Iodine is naturally occurring in certain foods, like fish, shrimp, seaweed, and other seafood. Infants also get a small amount of iodine from breast milk.

But too much iodine can harm the body, particularly the thyroid. It can cause a goiter, thyroid gland inflammation, and, in some cases, thyroid cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Povidone-Iodine solutions sold at pharmacies are designed to treat mild cuts and scrapes by killing bacteria. It is not intended to be gargled or ingested.

Large doses of iodine can cause burning in the mouth, throat, stomach, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can even cause neurological side effects.

“If you don’t swallow [iodine] it is relatively safe, but if you do swallow it you can have gastrointestinal upset,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

“There is no good scientific, rigorous data to support [using iodine to prevent COVID-19],” he says. “If there were something that simple that was useful in preventing or treating COVID, every doctor in every country would be advocating for it.”

Vaccines remain the best, most effective way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which can cause COVID-19. This is something the experts agree on.

In addition, the measures that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended since the beginning of the pandemic still hold. This includes frequent hand-washing, face coverings, and physical or social distancing. But above and beyond, the vaccine is the proven most effective way to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“The vaccine is our way out of this. It is based on the history of other diseases like polio, smallpox, and diphtheria,” said Strange. “The vaccine is the most important thing we should be talking about.”