MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday put to rest claims that steam inhalation could cure or prevent coronavirus infection following the controversial use of the alternative therapy in Cebu, a COVID-19 hotspot.
"There's no scientific evidence that proves inhaling steam together with salt, lemon and other ingredients kills the virus that causes COVID-19," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in Filipino during a televised press briefing.
The treatment locally known as "tuob," where people inhale steam from hot water, pose greater health risks instead, she added.
For one, steam therapy can lead to scald injury in accident, Vergeire said. It can also put more people at an increased risk for infection, she added.
"There's a possibility that the virus could be added in the mist, which might contribute to the spread of the virus," Vergeire said in Filipino.
Steam inhalation also loosens secretions that can further the spread of the virus through coughing, she added.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have debunked claims over the efficacy of the alternative therapy against COVID-19, Vergeire said.
The health department also joined the chorus of 13 medical societies in saying that steam inhalation is not a preventive and curative measure against the novel coronavirus.
While steam inhalation could provide relief in cough and nasal congestion, there's no evidence that shows it could kill viruses, the group said.
"The practice may even be precarious, if done by infected individuals, as it may facilitate the spread if done communally," it said in a statement.
"Because steam does not kill the virus and may cause potential harm, we cannot, in good conscience, endorse its use as preventive or curative measure," the group added.
The health experts were reacting to reports that the Cebu Provincial Government has encouraged its employees through a memorandum to practice steam therapy against COVID-19.
Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia drew backlash after calling out 2 doctors who criticized the therapy. In a virtual presser, the governor had gone on a tirade and flashed the photos of the doctors. This led to the hashtag #NoToDoctorShaming, which topped the local Twitter trends list.
In a statement released Thursday, the Cebu Provincial Government stressed that Garcia's action was in response to the "unethical behaviors" of the doctors.
One of the doctors shamed the government for advocating steam therapy while the other made threatening remarks to the governor, it said.
The provincial government also stressed that Garcia does not claim steam inhalation is a cure for COVID-19, saying the therapy is "one of the many health regimens being encouraged to boost immune system."