SCIENTIFIC research suggests that indigenous knowledge of steam inhalation, commonly known as “sifutfo” is effective in the treatment of the early stages of covid-19. Then people who were put on steam treatment during the study all 10 tested covid-19 negative within a week.
Though the sample is small, the simplicity and 100% effectiveness of the cost-free solution is expected to inflame opposition from the multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry that has lined up a global client based for the rollout of a covid-19 vaccine.
The study validates a spirited advocacy by a local opinion leader who boasts of a significant religious following who called for people to undergo “sifutfo”. The call alarmed the government that relies on World Health Organization guidance. The minister of health immediately responded with a plea for covid-infected people to first undergo medical tests to rule out complicating other health conditions before they try home remedies.
“The use of home remedies is historical in every society. However, in the current COVID-19 pandemic, the public is encouraged to first undergo a clinical assessment to determine severity of illness and rule out comorbidities as a majority of deaths occur in those with comorbidities.”
“Kufutsa” she said “may relieve symptoms and make the person feel better; however this will not kill the coronavirus in the body and is therefore not a treatment for COVID-19. A medical check-up is still required to determine supportive care needed. Additionally, “kufutsa” carries its own risks such as burns on the skin and inhalation injuries.”
But the Italian study contradicts the minister on a crisis that has claimed the lives of 516 people which includes the Prime Minister and two of his ministers. Though infections continue to rise, the second wave of the virus appears to be losing steam, in response to a combination of measures that include a soft lockdown, a night to down curfew and the ban on alcohol. Infections were highest at the end of January 2020, peaking in the weak ending 2 January 2021 which showed an increase of 2898 over the previous week. Infections have decelerated markedly since then, dropping down to -3810 on the week ending 15 January 2021 even though the death rate continues to climb.
Manzini has reclaimed the mantle as the epidemic epicentre, with daily infections consistently leading those of Hhohho. Lubombo and Shiselweni are the least infected regions.
Italian doctors took a cue from two key insights of the vulnerability of the virus. Firstly, that soapy water cripples the viruses ability to latch onto body cells, and that heat kills the virus.
The study on the efficacy of steam inhalations as another possible treatment to help mitigate SARS-CoV-2 infection is published in the latest issue of the journal Life Sciences. It was conducted by researchers at the Biochemistry and Pharmacology Laboratory, Meyer Children’s University Hospital, Florence, Italy.
The small single-center study included 10 asymptomatic or paucisymptomatic healthcare professionals (including physicians and pediatric nurses). Paucisymptomatic individuals were those with mild symptoms. All 10 individuals had tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 via real-time polymerase chain reaction reverse transcription (RT-PCR) tests.
The patients were administered humidified steam through inhalation for at least 20 minutes (5 cycles of 4 minutes) within 1 hour for at least 4 consecutive days. Their airway mucosal membranes were exposed to the steam. The temperature of the steam was maintained at 55 and 65 °C in the first 4 to 5 min after the initiation of water boiling. The patient had a towel draped over his over her back, lowering toward the hot steam down to about 25 to 30 cm from the water.
At 24 hours after each cycle of treatment, viral shedding was measured by RT-PCR after collecting swabs from the nose and pharynx (rhino pharyngeal swabs). Viral load was measured using at least 6 Cycle Threshold Values.
3 participants dropped out of the intervention; 1 due to allergy, 1 started on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin treatment since day 1, and 1 manifested more than three symptoms, which were moderate to severe.
The average age of the participants was 44.4 years.
Overall results were as follows:
- 6 patients with symptoms reported clinical improvement at the end of the intervention
- 2 patients showed persistent symptoms of loss of smell and taste
- 1 patient complained of persisting muscle pain and nasal congestion
- All 7 patients tested negative after the first day of steam inhalation on four consecutive swab samples.
- All 7 remained low viral shedders 3 to 5 days after following the protocol
- The allergic patient who had stopped the study on day 5 had showed a negative swab on inhalation on day 1. They showed a weak positive 3 days later. An additional swab on day 10 showed negative
- The patient that had also started on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (for 9 days and 3 days, respectively) continued the steam inhalation till day 5 when their swab tested negative
- The third dropped out patient with moderate to severe symptoms continued the steam inhalation protocol tested negative on swabs on days 8, 9 and 10.
Conclusions and implications
This study, although small, shows the beneficial effects of steam inhalation in reducing viral shedding from infected patients. The team writes that this could be an “easily accessible, non-invasive and inexpensive procedure” which has been proven to be effective. It should be subjected to larger clinical trials, the team wrote.
They concluded, “Should our preliminary observations be confirmed, the protocol could be used against COVID19 or other viral infections using vapotherm masks, where temperature, time of exposure and size of steam particles can be set and monitored.”
A study Over 61.49 million people worldwide have been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the agent that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – and over 1.44 million people have lost their lives. At present, there are no safe and effective antivirals to treat infection. Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) thus remain the order of the day, and these typically include wearing masks in public, social distancing and regular handwashing.
Background and objectives of the study
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global spread of COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. It has been one of the largest public health problems in recent memory. It has overwhelmed healthcare systems in many parts of the world, and its knock-on effects have crippled the global economy. The authors of the study write that before the availability of effective vaccines to prevent infection, or antivirals to treat it, upholding NPIs remain crucial.
The virus and the way it infects
SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus with a capsid and a peri-capsid envelope, which is crossed by glycoprotein structures. The virus has an external protein structure – namely, its spike proteins – that can bind onto human cells to facilitate viral entry. Most therapeutic agents being developed are being targeted towards these proteins and the process by which they allow the virus to infiltrate the host cell.
Early on in the virus’s outbreak, it was found that soapy water could help break down the viral envelope and thus denature it. Researchers added that heat has also been seen to denature the proteins that lead to loss of infectivity of the SARS-CoV that caused the 2002 SARS outbreak. The researchers have shown that heat can also denature the SARS-CoV-2 virion’s proteins.
Temperatures of 56 °C for 15 and 30 minutes in liquid environments, respectively, were enough to breakdown SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, the researchers wrote.
Steam inhalation cycles are thus considered to be useful in damaging the capsid of the SARS-CoV-2 envelope and prevent infection, write the researchers. They write that the European Pharmacopoeia VI edition has recommended steam inhalations as a procedure to treat respiratory diseases.