“This is to inform us all that the pH for corona virus varies from 5.5 to 8.5,” reads a graphic shared on WhatsApp. It says this is based on “research” from “Journal of Virology, April 1991”. A similar claim is going around Facebook where it is used to sell an "alkaline cup".
The graphic goes on: “All we need to do, to beat corona virus, we need to take more of an alkaline foods that are above the above pH level of the Virus.” It says these foods include lemon, lime, avocado and garlic but doesn’t say how exactly they beat it.
Here alarm bells should start to ring. According to the graphic, avocado has a pH of “15.6”. But the pH scale, which measures how acidic or basic something is, goes from zero to 14. Nothing has a pH above 14.
But could the pH for the new coronavirus “vary from 5.5 to 8.5”? We checked.
Coronaviruses and pH
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases. An outbreak of a new coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. It causes the disease Covid-19.
There are over 400,000 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide, with more than 18,000 deaths.
An article about a coronavirus and pH was published in the Journal of Virology, from the American Society for Microbiology, in April 1991. It’s titled Alteration of the pH Dependence of Coronavirus-Induced Cell Fusion: Effect of Mutations in the Spike Glycoprotein.
But the very first sentence of the abstract makes it clear that the 1991 study was looking at a completely different coronavirus – the coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus type 4, or MHV4. The new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
And the journal article doesn’t claim that MHV4 has a certain pH level, or range. Rather, the study is about what happens when “susceptible murine cells” – that is, mice or rat cells – are infected with MHV4 “at pHs from 5.5 to 8.5”.
More significantly, it has nothing to do with the new coronavirus, which was unknown before the current outbreak began.
Coronavirus ‘does not have own pH’
Tanimola Akande, professor of public health at the University of Ilorin in western Nigeria, told Africa Check that the new coronavirus “does not have its own pH”. He said it survived well in an environment with a pH of about 6 and was unable to survive at a pH of 8 and above.
Oyewale Tomori, professor of virology with the WHO, also said the claim about the pH of the new coronavirus was incorrect. He advised people to remind themselves how the virus spreads, through sneezing and coughing.
“Coronavirus has nothing to do with the stomach, so how do these ‘alkaline foods’, like lemon, lime, avocado and garlic, beat the virus? This claim should be ignored,” he said.
The WHO advises people to stay more than one metre away from the sick, to regularly and thoroughly clean your hands, and to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. It says nothing about the pH of the virus or any foods.
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