R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.
The claim: Vitamins C and D have been adopted as treatment for coronavirus
Despite a lack of evidence that vitamins are effective against the novel coronavirus, a doctor with a history of making misleading claims says they are being used as a treatment for the virus.
An April 7 article by Dr. Joseph Mercola headlined “Vitamins C and D finally adopted as coronavirus treatment” claims that “vitamins C and D are now (finally) being adopted in the conventional treatment of novel coronavirus.”
Mercola is a doctor of osteopathy who promotes alternative medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued Mercola at least three warning letters over the years, accusing him of making “false or misleading claims” about products he has promoted on his website. For years, medical experts have also criticized Mercola for sharing dangerous information.
“The information he’s putting out to the public is extremely misleading and potentially very dangerous,” Dr. Stephen Barrett told Chicago Magazine for a 2012 article about Mercola. Barrett runs QuackWatch.org, a medical watchdog website. “He exaggerates the risks and potential dangers of legitimate science-based medical care, and he promotes a lot of unsubstantiated ideas and sells (certain) products with claims that are misleading.”
Mercola’s claim about vitamins and the coronavirus cites a New York Post article from March 24 that describes the use of vitamin C by Northwell Health, a New York hospital system, to treat patients with coronavirus.
Northwell spokesperson Jason Molinet confirmed to USA TODAY that “vitamin C was one of many therapies employed at the discretion of physicians in our health system.”
Molinet declined to answer follow-up questions about how widespread the use of vitamin C was, what the results of the treatment were and what studies or data Northwell relied on when deciding whether to use vitamin C as part of COVID-19 treatment. He also declined to make a doctor available to speak about the treatment, saying that “that’s the extent of our statement on this.”
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Experts say there is no proven therapy for treating coronavirus
Dr. William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, said he’s heard claims that vitamins C and D can be used either to prevent disease or to treat it.
“I sure wish they were true, but there’s no evidence to support either of those vitamins being an effective either preventive or treatment in any dose. If that were true, believe me it would be headline news and we would all be recommending it,” he said.
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Specifically, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases states it’s a myth that extra vitamin C will prevent COVID-19.
“There is no evidence that taking extra vitamin C will fight against COVID-19. In fact, the body can only absorb a certain amount of vitamin C and any excess will be excreted,” the organization says in a graphic available on its website.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization state the only way to minimize the chances of contracting the virus is to take preventative steps against becoming infected.
Social distancing from other people, frequent handwashing and cleaning of often-used surfaces are the only techniques on which there is expert consensus that they minimize the likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus.
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A research team at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China, began a study on vitamin C treatments for COVID-19 on Feb. 14. The program is expected to be completed at the end of September. No findings have been published.
Clinical trials of various treatments for COVID-19 are underway to gain a more accurate understanding of their effectiveness, but many of those trials will not be completed for months. Those trials will provide additional evidence about the likely benefits — and likely risks — of such treatments, Schaffner said.
“There’s no such thing as a drug or treatment program that’s free of side effects,” he said.
A recent study of one drug, remdesivir, showed it could modestly improve recovery times for patients with COVID-19, although the study’s findings have not been peer-reviewed.The FDA issued an emergency approval for the drug on Friday.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday.
Schaffner said many COVID-19 patients are being treated based on anecdotal evidence as doctors consult with patients and their families about the risks on a case-by-case basis.
“It does not surprise me that here or there a physician, a patient, or maybe even a hospital, would include these vitamins as part of therapies. But there’s no evidence that they’re better than nothing at all,” he said.
Our ruling: False
While vitamin C is being used, at least in one New York hospital system, to help treat some patients on a case-by-case basis, there is no evidence to suggest that it is effective. And occasional use of vitamins C or D in COVID-19 treatment at the discretion of a patient and their doctor is not the same as saying they are being adopted “in the conventional treatment” of the coronavirus, as Mercola’s article states.
Our fact-check sources:
Stephen Gruber-Miller can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
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