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Researchers study mouthwash as another way to curb spread of Covid-19

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

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A new study is suggesting that mouthwash may actually be effective in slowing the transmission of the contagious coronavirus.

Research published Thursday in the scientific journal Function revealed that chemicals found in oral rinses and mouthwash, such as ethanol, povidone-iodine and cetylpyridinium, could “disrupt the lipid membranes of several enveloped viruses,” such as COVID-19.

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

“Emerging studies increasingly demonstrate the importance of the throat and salivary glands as sites of virus replication and transmission in early COVID-19 disease,” researchers wrote in the study published in Function.

Explaining that SARS-CoV-2 is an “enveloped virus,” that has an “outer lipid membrane derived from the host cell from which it buds,” the study noted that while “it is highly sensitive to agents that disrupt lipid bio-membranes, there has been no discussion about the potential role of oral rinsing in preventing transmission.”

Addressing “known mechanisms of viral lipid membrane disruption by widely available dental mouthwash components,” the researchers added that they “also assess existing formulations for their potential ability to disrupt the SARS-CoV-2 lipid envelope.”

“We highlight that already published research on other enveloped viruses, including coronaviruses, directly support the idea that oral rinsing should be considered as a potential way to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” they wrote.

“We are now widely encouraged to use soap or 60-70% alcohol-based gels to inactivate SARS-CoV2, based on the view that these agents damage the lipid envelope,” the study explained. “At the same time, there has been no discussion of oral anti-viral strategies, apart from a recent response to an article in British Medical Journal calling for protection for healthcare workers against infection.”

The scientists noted that it is not yet known how long the ingredients in mouthwash “retain an ability to interact with biomembranes in the mouth,” but they added that there is an “urgent need” for more research.

“Safe use of mouthwash – as in gargling – has so far not been considered by public health bodies in the UK,” Valerie O’Donnell, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “In test tube experiments and limited clinical studies, some mouthwashes contain enough of known virucidal ingredients to effectively target lipids in similar enveloped viruses.”

The Cardiff University professor cautioned that people should continue to follow guidelines set by lawmakers and experts.

“Mouthwash has not been tested against this new coronavirus yet,” O’Donnell added. “People should continue to follow the preventive measures issued by the UK government, including washing hands frequently and maintaining social distance. This study suggests further clinical studies could be worthwhile based on the theoretical evidence.”

The World Health Organization announced in February as the coronavirus crisis began to unfold that there was “no evidence” that mouthwash could prevent the disease.

“There is no evidence that using mouthwash will protect you from infection with the new coronavirus,” the United Nations agency wrote on Facebook at the time.

The makers of Listerine mouthwash, which contains approximately 20 percent alcohol, pointed out that rinsing with the product does not kill the virus.

“[Listerine] mouthwash has not been tested against the coronavirus and is not intended to prevent or treat COVID-19,” Johnson & Johnson wrote on the company’s website. “Consumers should follow the preventive measures issued by the World Health Organization including washing hands frequently, maintaining social distance and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.”

Frieda Powers

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