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What is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect people and many animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. There are many types of coronaviruses, including some that give people a common head or chest cold. Other coronavirus diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are extremely dangerous but are much less widespread than colds and COVID-19


Other coronaviruses

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect people and many animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. There are many types of coronaviruses, including some that give people a common head or chest cold. Other coronavirus diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are extremely dangerous but are much less widespread than colds and COVID-19.



photo of gloved hand moving lab specimen


CDC IN ACTION - HighLights


About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a dangerous disease caused by a virus discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is very contagious and has quickly spread around the world.

COVID-19 most often causes respiratory symptoms that can feel much like a cold, a flu, or pneumonia, but COVID-19 can also harm other parts of the body.

  • Most people who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill.
  • Older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
  • Vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and effective.

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Vicks versus the virus

I’ve heard that putting Vicks VapoRub under your nostrils helps to keep germs out. Is this something that might help to keep someone from getting infected with COVID19?

Illustration of a person applying Vick's Vapo-rub on their face in the shape of a handlebar mustache

This is a great question! Alas, like so many things in life, there’s a kernel of truth in this rumor, but it won’t work in practice and could actually make you very sick. 


The active ingredients in Vick’s VapoRub are camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol, which work together to suppress coughs and produce a warming sensation on the skin that is soothing when you’re sick.

In fact, VapoRub catapulted to popularity during the pandemic flu of 1918 and has been a popular over-the-counter remedy for respiratory illnesses ever since. 


Camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol all have antibacterial properties, so using them to create a protective barrier between your own nose and the respiratory secretions that cause COVID-19 may seem like a no-brainer.


Unfortunately, besides being extremely uncomfortable, using VapoRub in your nostrils puts you at risk of developing an extremely ominous-sounding illness called exogenous lipoid pneumonia (ELP), which results from the aspiration or inhalation of fat-like material of an animal, vegetable, or mineral origin.


Long story short, the petrolatum base of VapoRub, when inhaled, can travel to the lungs, where it collects and causes ground-glass opacities — a type of damage also associated with COVID-19.


If you’re feeling ill from any respiratory ailment, using VapoRub on your chest or in a vaporizer may soothe your symptoms.


Your healthcare provider can also advise you on other methods to soothe congestion and body aches. But if you’re looking for good ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we would suggest that you put down the Vick’s, and reach for the hand soap instead.

This news story has not been updated since the date is shown. Information contained in this story may be outdated. For current information about MIT Medical’s services, please see relevant areas of the MIT Medical website.


What does NCCIH do?

We conduct and support research and provide information about complementary health products and practices.


MMS, BoliviaA pharmacist holds a container of chlorine dioxide at the Farmacia Boliviana in Cochabamba, Bolivia.


  • Bolivia's new health minister, Edgar Pozo, at a press conference Sunday said consuming toxic bleach chlorine dioxide as a COVID-19 treatment is now permitted.
  • It has no medical value and is potentially deadly if consumed, according to medical authorities including the FDA and WHO.
  • Despite this, a determined campaign by advocates of the substance, also called Miracle Mineral Solution, persuaded many to take it.
  • Business Insider previously reported how lawmakers in Bolivia embraced the substance despite warnings from the nation's own health ministry.
  • But last month the old government lost power, allowing the newly-installed Pozo to effectively overturn that advice.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.


Bolivia's new minister of health publicly endorsed consuming a type of toxic bleach to treat COVID-19, despite clear evidence of its dangers. 


The statement at the weekend by Edgar Pozo was part of a wave of change brought in by Bolivia's new government, which won a recent election after embracing the substance chlorine dioxide as a coronavirus treatment.


It was the latest victory in Bolivia for advocates of chlorine dioxide, also known as "Miracle Mineral Solution," who have found success in the South American nation.


In other countries, advocates have faced prosecution for falsely portraying the substance as an effective treatment. 


The toxic substance has been falsely hailed by a sprawling alternative medicine movement as a miracle cure.

Medical authorities including the US Food and Drugs Administration have warned that it is potentially lethal if consumed in large doses, and has no medical benefits. 


At a press conference on Sunday, Pozo described the use of the substance, chlorine dioxide, as "permissible."

Here is a video of the event, in Spanish:

Pozo told reporters: "[Chlorine Dioxide] is approved by law, that is to say that access to this alternative medicine is permissible, in a way with which our traditional medical unit is going to begin to produce a broader knowledge about its benefits, about its actions, about the therapeutic approach this substance has."


"We are beginning a process, we are beginning to listen to both medicines and it is our obligation to have to take serious steps, calmly, carefully."


He announced that the ministry would conduct a study into its use, as part of a review of indigenous treatments of the disease. 

Although presented in the language of science, Pozo's recommendation cuts across warnings from authorities including the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration.


The comments risk further fueling the popularity of the toxic substance in Bolivia.

People there have seized on the bleach in the absence of widely available healthcare, activists have told Business Insider. 


According to local media reports, people across Bolivia have been hospitalized after taking chlorine dioxide, which is more commonly used in the production of paper.


A front-line medic in September forwarded to Business Insider images of the internal injuries the substance caused to a patient who'd been hospitalized after consuming it. 


The embracing of the substance by a national government marks a new triumph for medical misinformation.

Miracle Mineral Solution, or MMS, has long been hailed as the cure for a range of illnesses by a global network of conspiracy theorists.


Pozo's comments are a dramatic reversal of the ministry's stance under the previous government when it warned in June that the substance "puts the health of the population that consumes or intends to do so at serious risk," and said that its popularity was based on rumors and misinformation. 


Kate Centellas, an associate professor in sociology and anthropology at the University of Mississippi, told Business Insider that the newly-empowered MAS party had pledged support for traditional medicines as part of its election platform.


But she said that it was too soon to tell if Pozo was offering his unqualified support for legalizing chlorine dioxide. 

"Since chlorine dioxide was approved by the MAS senate, I suspect it is difficult to distance himself from it.

I do sense some hedging on his part because he's not allowing it to be considered part of traditional medicine but as something distinct," she said of Sunday's press conference. 


The movement advocating MMS as a panacea for a range of illnesses originates in a fake Florida church, whose leader was recently arrested in Colombia for selling the substance.


The US Food and Drugs Administration, the World Health Organization and Spain's leading medical regulator have all issued urgent warnings against consuming the substance.

Last week, the Pan-American Health Organization, in response to its surging popularity in Bolivia, warned in a tweet that the substance "is not a medication." 


Business insider has chronicled how a group of renegade medics, COMUSAV, and a German alternative medicine advocate, Andreas Kalcker, began to push the substance as a COVID-19 cure in Bolivia over the summer.

The popularity of the substance spread as authorities struggled to cope with the pandemic. 


In what some experts characterized as a ploy to exploit anger at the previous government over its poor response to the pandemic, MAS pushed a bill through the Senate in August legalizing the bleach. 

The party has said it wants the substance to be widely available to COVID-19 patients in pharmacies and health centers.

The government of President Jeanine Añez refused to ratify the bill though. 


With the sweeping triumph of the MAS in November's presidential election and the appointment of a new health minister, the last obstacle to the legalization of the substance was removed. 

Yelena Dzahnova and Ruqayyah Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.