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Hot steam won’t kill the coronavirus – and could cause serious burns

A graphic circulating on Facebook and Twitter in South Africa announces a “14 Day National Steaming Drive” from 18 to 31 January 2021 to “conquer” the coronavirus.

“We call upon everyone to steam at the same time, for two weeks twice a day,” it reads. Inhaling steam will “kill the virus in the nose”. 

The graphic claims that only steam can reach the virus, “hidden behind the paranasal sinus”. Inhaling steam with a temperature of 50°C will “disable” or “paralyze” the virus, it says, while 60°C will weaken the virus and 70°C will kill it completely. 

Africa Check has debunked the claim that Covid-19 can be cured using hot steam several times. Here’s why you need to be cautious. 

Virus ‘not reached by steam’

A small study of 10 people in 2020 did suggest that inhaling steam at temperatures between 55°C and 65°C could reduce the number of virus particles shed in asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients. 

But the study concluded that the “observation is only preliminary, it has obvious limitations and the beneficial effects we observed need confirmation in a controlled trial”.

The researchers said steaming could not eradicate the virus from the body “as the steam inhalation procedure can only reach upper airways”.

Africa Check could not find any evidence that steaming will “paralyze” the virus in an infected person. 

Steam won’t reach virus in cells

Medical professionals have also told Africa Check that steam inhalation is unlikely to prevent or cure Covid-19. 

“The virus in infected individuals is within cells and will not be reached by steam,” Alberto Escherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, told us.

In December 2020 South Africa’s Mail & Guardian quoted public health specialist Dr Atiya Mosam as saying that while steam may help patients with congestion, it can’t be called a Covid-19 cure. 

“Some of the home treatments can help one feel better, but we really cannot confirm anything that is said to cure Covid-19 right now. Steaming, for example, is like using hot water and that can only help open nasal blockage and pores but not cure Covid-19,” she said.

Steaming can burn you

A study published in May 2020 found that the time for the virus to become inactive was reduced from 14 days to five minutes if exposed to temperatures of 70°C. 

But Tsumoru Shintake, a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, has warned that physically attempting to expose the nasal cavity to these temperatures is dangerous and coul

lead to serious burns. Temperatures in the nasal cavity usually range between 32°C and 34°C, he said. 

“Do not try [to inhale steam]. You will damage the epithelium cells in your nose,” he said. 

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