A Mexican mother's young son was recently poisoned by topical application of Vicks VapoRub.
Collected via e-mail, November 2016
A Mexican mother tells her tragedy to warn other parents and avoid someone else going through what she’s living: the loss of her 2-years-old baby.
When she came back from work, she came into her baby’s room. When she got near to kiss him, she felt he had a fever. She imagined it was just a common cold and thought about a home remedy to relieve him.
She rubbed Vick VapoRub on his chest, back, and under his nose to help him breathe. She tucked him up and laid down next to him.
She was tired, so she fell asleep next to her baby. Hours later, when she woke up, she noticed her son wasn’t breathing.
She carried him and took it to the hospital to save him. But, sadly, everything was pointless, the baby had been dead for hours.
The medical report stated the child died due to inflammation in the respiratory tract, produced by the camphor contained in the famous ointment.
The appended image was not the baby that purportedly died from an overdose of topically applied Vicks VapoRub, but a stock photograph. We found no news articles from November 2016 (or any other time period) indicating that a child had died due to topical use of the remedy.
A 2001 study indicated one child of unknown nationality died after ingesting 5ml of camphorated oil (not a topical solution of Vicks):
The clinical effects of camphorated oil are gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system (CNS) depression. Symptoms usually begin within 5 to 10 min of ingestion, and peak within 90 min. The death of a small child occurred after the ingestion of 5 mL of camphorated oil[.]
A study published in 2009 demonstrated the respiratory inflammation mentioned in the viral article, but not in human babies:
To confirm that the menthol-containing rub was responsible for the patient’s respiratory stress, researchers tested the product on ferrets. Indeed, they found that exposure to VapoRub increased mucous production, thereby causing inflammation in the rodents’ airways.
As of January 2009, no mentions were made of any deaths due to the use of Vicks VapoRub (though opinions were mixed on its safety):
According to Procter & Gamble spokesperson David Bernens, the market surveillance data obtained by the makers of Vicks does not coincide with the findings of this report. Bernens said they see only about three adverse events per one million units of Vicks VapoRub sold.
“For generations Vicks has been shown to be safe and effective if used in accordance with the instructions on the bottle,” Bernens said. “Animal findings have unknown clinical relevance, and the safety of Vicks VapoRub has been shown in multiple clinical trials in over 1,000 children who were studied, ranging in age from one month old to 12 years old.”
Other doctors said the study may even cause VapoRub to be lumped in with other cough and cold medications that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed unsafe for children under the age of 2.
According to Dr. Diane Pappas, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, this study confirms that Vicks VapoRub, too, “should not be used in children under the age of two.”
The only documented cases remotely related to the claim that a baby in Mexico died due to topical application of Vicks VapoRub did not match the details of the viral posts. We found no recorded deaths specifically attributed to topical application of Vicks VapoRub.