Fact Check

Is This Good Advice for Preventing Swine Flu?

List offers useful tips for avoiding contracting the swine flu?

Published Oct. 27, 2009

High Contrast Swine Flu piggy with mask concept on white background (Getty Images, stock)
High Contrast Swine Flu piggy with mask concept on white background (Image Via Getty Images, stock)
List offers useful tips for avoiding contracting the swine flu.

The recent swine flu outbreak has prompted a spate of Internet-circulated advice for avoiding the malady, ranging from basic medical advice to all sorts of folk remedies.

The list of tips reproduced below has been attributed to a number of different names, primarily that of Dr. Vinay Goyal of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), as well as that of Dr. Mehmet Oz (host of the syndicated TV program The Dr. Oz Show) and a Dr. Subhash Mehta of Bangalore, India. It's unlikely that any of these men was the actual creator of this swine flu prevention tip list, as the earliest versions carried no attribution, and both Dr. Goyal and Dr. Oz have disclaimed authorship.

We suspect that this list wasn't written by a doctor at all, but some of the people whose inboxes it passed through added various doctors' names to it in order to lend it an air of authority and credibility.

Regardless of who issued them, are these tips valid?

Example: [Collected via e-mail, October 2009]

Prevent Swine Flu - Good Advice

Dr. Vinay Goyal is an MBBS, DRM, DNB (Intensivist and Thyroid specialist) having clinical experience of over 20 years. He has worked in institutions like Hinduja Hospital, Bombay Hospital, Saifee Hospital, Tata Memorial etc. Presently, he is heading our Nuclear Medicine Department and Thyroid Clinic at Riddhivinayak Cardiac and Critical Centre, Malad (W).

The following message given by him, I feel makes a lot of sense and is important for all to know.

The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/throat. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible to avoid coming into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is.

While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, not fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced (instead of focusing on how to stock N95 or Tamiflu):

1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).

2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).

3. *Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don't trust salt). *H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above, *clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water . *Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti but *blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.* Neti pots and sinus rinse kits are available at the drug store and relatively inexpensive..under $15.

5. *Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C (Amla and other citrus fruits). *If you have to supplement with Vitamin C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.

6. *Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc.) as you can. *Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

Points #1 and #2 given above for avoiding the swine flu are standard advice offered by many health care professionals. The flu.gov web site operated by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, for example, offers these "everyday steps to protect your health" against the H1N1 flu virus:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

  • (We note that some skepticism has been expressed about how effective hand-washing with soap and water is in stopping the spread of influenza.)

    The efficacy of the remaining points is questionable, however. Relatively few medical professionals advocate them, and none of the last four tips (i.e., gargling, nasal irrigation, vitamin C intake, or drinking warm liquids) is offered as a method of flu avoidance by health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO), or even by Dr. Oz (although he does recommend vitamin D supplements). And when San Diego television station KFMB put the question of these last four tips to the clinical director of infectious diseases at UCSD Medical Center, he told them:

    "I don't even know of any evidence basis for gargling preventing influenza," Dr. Randy Taplitz [clinical director of infectious diseases at UCSD Medical Center] said.

    The email also suggests drinking warm liquids to wash viruses off and into the stomach, where they cannot survive. Another recommendation is to boost your natural immunity with foods or supplements rich in vitamin C.

    But Dr. Taplitz says again there's no evidence to support doing those things will help.

    "We do a lot of things symptomatically to make us feel better. Taking a hot bath, gargling with salt water ... if it makes you feel better there's no reason not to do it, but I wouldn't do it thinking that you're preventing yourself from acquiring influenza," Dr. Taplitz said.


    Cohen, Elizabeth.   "Some Doubt Hand Washing Stops H1N1."     CNN.com.   24 September 2009.

    KFMB-TV [San Diego].   "Do Those H1N1 Prevention Tips Work?"     20 October 2009.

    David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

    Article Tags