An expert breaks down a viral message you've likely seen - 'advice' from a UK 'nurse' on Covid-19

  • Fake coronavirus news continues to spread amid the pandemic
  • A recent viral WhatsApp message offers several Covid-19 recommendations
  • A Wits Professor responds, and separates facts from fiction

Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, plenty of unreliable and false information has been doing the rounds on several socila media and messaging platforms, including WhatsApp, with many people not always questioning the truth and validity of the messages.

In recent weeks, a lengthy WhatsApp text message has been widely shared, and claims to be “from a GP Nurse in the UK” who put together “some sensible advice” for people who become infected with Covid-19.

Part of the text message reads:


“Everyone is telling you how to NOT catch #coronavirus, but NO ONE is saying what to do if you get it. Thanks to this nurse in the UK for putting this guide together:

"… what I have NOT seen a lot of is advice for what happens if you actually get it, which many of us will. So as your friendly neighbourhood Nurse let me make some suggestions… (sic)” 

Many people are vulnerable to falling for messages such as the above. Health24, therefore, reached out to Professor Susan Goldstein, a public health specialist in the Wits School of Public Health.

Although the original source of the message remains undetermined, Goldstein broke down the contents of the message, setting apart facts from fiction.

Can paracetamol help?

“If affordable take a good general supplement, plus 2 000mg Vit C a day. Include ZINC, SELENIUM & GLUTATHIONE... Scott’s Emulsion is a great general tonic (cod liver oil)... Things you should actually buy ahead of time: *Kleenex*... *Paracetamol* (sic),” the message reads. 

In terms of preparing for getting sick, Goldstein says that having paracetamol (panado) is not a bad idea, as it can be used for any fever.  

“However, the other recommendations are not evidence-based, so the use of 2 000mg Vitamin C a day, zinc, selenium and glutathione [antioxidants], and Scott’s Emulsion is an absolute waste of money,” Goldstein adds. 

Do you need cough medicine and throat spray?

The widely-shared message also mentions that the following should be bought ahead of time:

  • Cough medicine of choice
  • Zinc lozenges
  • Throat spray like Andolex or TCP
  • Vicks VapoRub for your chest
  • A humidifier, or turning up the heat of a shower and sitting in the steam

Goldstein explains that none of the above is evidence-based, but that if you can afford them, they may help ease symptoms. A humidifier is not necessary, though, and while steaming a room may help to make you feel better, it is not a treatment for Covid-19, Goldstein added.

Wearing face masks and gloves

“Wear gloves and a mask to avoid contaminating others in your house,” the message reads. Wearing a cloth mask in public places was announced by President Cryril Ramaphosa as mandatory for all South Africans. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), there is sufficient evidence to suggest droplet transmission of the Covid-19 virus from each person can be reduced and minimised through mask-wearing.

However, in most situations, such as running errands, wearing gloves is not necessary, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Wearing gloves outside of these instances (for example, when using a shopping cart or using an ATM) will not necessarily protect you from getting Covid-19 and may still lead to the spread of germs.

"The best way to protect yourself from germs when running errands and after going out is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol,” their website advises.

Alkaline foods as treatment? 

According to the WhatsApp message, “the pH for coronavirus varies from 5.5 to 8.5” and that, to beat the virus, we need to consume alkaline foods that are above the pH level of the virus. It then goes on to recommend certain fruits and vegetables, including lemon, avocado, garlic, and orange.

Goldstein responds: “Once food enters into your stomach, the pH of the food is irrelevant as your stomach has very strong acid which breaks down the various foods. Food stays in your mouth for a relatively short time and is acted upon by various bacteria, so I don't see how the pH of the food can make any difference.

“The range that is quoted of 5.8-8.5 is very broad, and in fact, the whole idea doesn't make any sense to me."

When to seek help

If you experience any symptoms associated with the virus, you should contact your doctor or the SA Covid-19 helpline by calling the official toll free call centre at 0800 029 999, or send “Hi” to 0600 123 456 – the official WhatsApp help service.

Spotting fake news

Shortly after President Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster earlier this year, regulations that criminalised the intentional distribution of fake news were soon published, reported News24

To help prevent the spread of rumours, WhatsApp offers some tips on identifying fake messages. 

READ | Coronavirus in SA: All the confirmed cases

READ | Coronavirus: What are the criteria for a suspected case?

READ | Coronavirus: Basic protective measures

Image: Unsplash/Christian Wiediger
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