FactCheck Social Media

COVID-19 drinking water advice dry on evidence

2020-03-18 16:34:18

The Statement

With many countries around the world in lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis, a social media post is gaining traction by claiming that drinking water regularly will kill COVID-19. 

A Facebook post from March 10, 2020 reads: “SERIOUS EXCELLENT ADVICE by Japanese doctors treating COVID-19 cases. Everyone should ensure your mouth & throat is moist, never DRY. Take a few sips of water every 15 mins at least.

 “WHY?” the post continues. “Even if the virus gets into your mouth… drinking water or other liquids will WASH them down through your oesophagus and into the stomach. Once there in the tummy…your stomach ACID will kill all the virus. If you don’t drink enough water more regularly… the virus can enter your windpipes and into the LUNGS. That’s very dangerous.”

AAP FactCheck found more than 15 identical posts with the same claim and one had been viewed more than 26,000 times and received more than 430 shares. 

A Facebook post from March 10, 2020
 A Facebook post claims that drinking water regularly will kill coronavirus. 

The Analysis

COVID-19 has spread to more than 151 countries around the world since first reported in December 2019 and infected more than 179,000 people as of March 17, 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic on March 11.

The Facebook post firstly claims the advice on sipping water comes from Japanese doctors treating COVID-19 cases. However, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare lists no advisory about regular water intake on its website nor in its document, “Prevention Measures against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”.

The World Health Organization Philippines directly addressed whether drinking water protects against COVID-19 in a tweet. “While staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus infection,” WHO tweeted on February 8.

Water from a tap is poured into a glass.
 The World Health Organization Philippines says that drinking water doesn’t prevent coronavirus. 

Experts from the federal Department of Health and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) told AAP FactCheck that while hydration is important the claims mentioned in the post don’t stack up.

For the claim that drinking water will wash the virus down the oesophagus and into the stomach, UNSW Professor in virology and molecular biology William Rawlinson told AAP FactCheck that COVID-19 particles are “too small to wash away” and infection can occur through the eyes, nose and throat. 

“It (COVID-19) binds to cells in the upper part of your nose and throat. Drinking water won’t necessarily wash it away because it gets stuck in the material up there,” he said. 

The World Health Organization has advised COVID-19 can be transmitted by touching eyes, nose or mouth.

A Department of Health spokesperson told AAP FactCheck in an email that COVID-19 causes infection when the virus enters cells in the middle part of the throat, the oropharynx. 

“As the cells burst open and release the virus, viral particles can move down the respiratory tract and infect lower respiratory tract epithelial cells,”  the Department of Health spokesperson said.

“This will occur whether or not water is sipped.”

For the claim “once there in the tummy… your stomach ACID will kill all the virus”,  Prof Rawlinson said COVID-19 would most likely be killed by gastric acids if it somehow ended up in the stomach via food, however it could also potentially survive. 

“Gastric acid does kill viruses, not all of them but many,” he told AAP FactCheck. “But the virus can specifically stick to cells in the stomach.” 

The Department of Health spokesperson told AAP FactCheck that “gastric acid will not kill all viral particles”. 

“Hydration is important with any infection, however, sipping water will not prevent infection nor will it prevent infection spreading,” the spokesperson said. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the post to be false.  According the World Health Organization Philippines, drinking water will not prevent infection with COVID-19. The federal Department of Health and a professor in virology and molecular biology both say COVID-19 particles are too small to wash away by drinking water and that infection can also occur via the eyes and nose. There is no guarantee that all of the COVID-19 particles would be killed by gastric acids if it was washed into the stomach, according to the experts.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/