Scientists are researching whether mouthwash could prevent the spread of coronavirus - here’s what we know so far

Mouthwash could be an effective way to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)Mouthwash could be an effective way to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)
Mouthwash could be an effective way to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)

Mouthwash could be an effective way to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, researchers have found.

Scientists are now calling for urgent research into whether mouthwash that is readily available in stores could have the potential to reduce coronavirus transmission in the early stages of infection.

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Can mouthwash stop the virus spreading?

The new research, led by Cardiff University, examined whether mouthwash has the ability to damage the outer fatty (lipid) membrane that envelopes coronavirus, and, in turn, inactivate the virus in the throat.

Previous studies have shown that mouthwashes which contain low amounts of ethanol, povidone-iodine and cetylpyridinium could disrupt the fatty membranes around other viruses.

This latest research suggests that coronavirus may be similarly affected, and, while it is not yet confirmed, it has prompted researchers to call for further investigation.

Lead author Professor Valerie O'Donnell, co-director of Cardiff University's Systems Immunity Research Institute, said, "Safe use of mouthwash - as in gargling - has so far not been considered by public health bodies in the UK.

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"In test tube experiments and limited clinical studies, some mouthwashes contain enough of known virucidal ingredients to effectively target lipids in similar enveloped viruses.

"What we don't know yet is whether existing mouthwashes are active against the lipid membrane of SARS-CoV-2.

"Our review of the literature suggests that research is needed as a matter of urgency to determine its potential for use against this new virus.”

What advice should people follow?

As mouthwash has not yet been tested against coronavirus or been proven to help prevent transmission, members of the public should continue to follow government guidance.

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This includes following preventive measures, such as regularly hand washing with soap and water, and maintaining social distancing.

In a new document published on 11 May, which outlines the government’s plan for bringing the country out of lockdown, the UK government recommended that face coverings should also now be worn by members of the public in England when in enclosed spaces.

This includes on public transport and in some shops where maintaining social distancing is not always possible.

Similar advice has been issued in Scotland, while Northern Ireland is also urging people to wear face coverings on public transport, although it is not compulsory.

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Have there been any other developments?

A new antibody test that shows if a person has been infected with coronavirus in the past has now been approved by health officials in England. Public Health England (PHE) said the test has an accuracy of 100 per cent, with the findings hailed as a “very positive development” in tackling the virus outbreak.

The blood test has been developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche and is designed to determine if a person has been exposed to the virus. The test looks for antibodies which could help indicate whether a person has developed some immunity against the virus.

As it is able to detect 100 per cent of cases where a person has had coronavirus in the past, the test could prove useful in helping to inform when lockdown restrictions may be safe to ease.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it is exploring the use of antibody testing across the NHS in England, and later the wider public.

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DHSC said it was delighted that devices were progressing through validation and is working on plans to roll out antibody testing, adding that an announcement will be made “in due course”.

Health officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own decisions about testing, but are likely to roll out the antibody test if England adopts it.