Observers

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, vendors have taken to social media in Latin America to hawk a range of products, including chlorine dioxide. However, this substance is both ineffective against the novel coronavirus and can even pose a serious health risk, which has led to it being banned in several countries.

In many countries across Latin America, numerous Facebook pages and Instagram accounts have been promoting chlorine dioxide solution, also called CDS, claiming that it can be used to ward off the novel coronavirus or even cure it.

The chemical compound chlorine dioxide can be made in solution form with sodium chlorite. It is similar to bleach and is used as a disinfectant or whitening agent in the textile and paper industries.

"CDS can prevent and cure Covid-19 and other diseases,” reads an advertisement on this Colombian Instagram page, which has more than 1,400 followers.
 
"When someone has Covid, already at an advanced stage, how should they take [CDS] and where can they buy it ready to go in El Alto, Bolivia?", reads this post in a Mexican Facebook group advertising chlorine dioxide. The group has more than 3,700 members.

"One litre to prevent and cure Covid-19," reads this ad in Facebook "Marketplace" for chlorine dioxide in Bolivia.
 

In an attempt to prove their effectiveness, some posts cite Andreas Kalcker, a controversial German scientist who has posted numerous videos online defending the use of this product for medical purposes. His videos have garnered thousands of views (like this one).
 
"Andreas Kalcker explains how chlorine dioxide or CDS functions scientifically to prevent and cure Covid-19," reads this Facebook "Marketplace" ad from Bolivia.
 

Testimonials from people who claim to have been cured by this product are visible on social media, including in a Facebook group called "Personas curadas con dióxido de cloro" ("people cured with chlorine dioxide").


Between seven and 27 euros, depending on amount 

Our team reached out to several vendors selling this product on Facebook, based in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia. We asked them via WhatsApp if the product would prevent you from getting Covid-19 or cure you, without saying we were journalists. They were being sold for between seven and 27 euros, depending on the amount. Some of them also sent us videos touting the benefits of their products.

Screengrab of a WhatsApp conversation with a Colombian who assured us that the product was “used to avoid getting Covid and also to cure it as well as for lots of other illnesses".
 
 Screengrab of a WhatsApp conversation with another Colombian vendor, who explained, “CDS should be diluted in water and swallowed eight times a day [...] Once the purchase is completed, I’ll send you the protocol to follow.” He said he could send us the product the very next day.
 

Others try to buy these products in pharmacies, like this one in Cochabamba, Bolivia.


A product "back in demand” with the Covid-19 pandemic

For years, people have been championing the alleged health benefits of chlorine dioxide, claiming that it can be used to treat cancer, HIV, malaria, diabetes, asthma and even autism. One of its most well-known proponents is the American Jim Humble, a former member of the Church of Scientology who later founded his own church, which has several branches in Latin America. For years, he praised what he called the “miraculous mineral solution". The solution made a comeback with the arrival of Covid-19.
 
 
An ineffective product...
 
However, there is no proof that chlorine dioxide can be used to treat coronavirus, according to several specialists. On April 8, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a statement warning consumers about these products, stating that it is “not aware of any scientific evidence supporting their safety or effectiveness and they pose significant risks to patient health”. In fact, the FDA actually published their first warning about it way back in 2010. Olivier Bouchaud, the head of infectious and tropical diseases in Avicenne Hospital in Bobigny, made a similar statement when interviewed by RFI.

In a statement published in French, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that “no studies have proven that any current medicine as an effective prevention or treatment to this illness", even if “several clinical trials of both Western and traditional medicines are under way". For the time being, WHO recommended not taking “any medicine [...] to prevent or treat” coronavirus.
 
 
Health risks
 
Chlorine dioxide isn’t just ineffective, it’s actually dangerous. The FDA listed several undesirable side effects, that, in some cases, could be deadly. These include respiratory failure, heart problems, low blood pressure, acute liver failure, low red blood cell count, vomiting and severe diarrhea.

Jorge Oñate, the president of the Colombian Association of Infectology, said in an interview with ColombiaCheck, that consuming chlorine dioxide can cause “gastro-intestinal burns or burns in the buccal mucosa".

Two people who were recently intoxicated, went to a hospital in Bolivia after ingesting chlorine dioxide.

For the time being, no health authorities recognise chlorine dioxide. Some of them have even warned the public about the dangers of this product. It was actually banned in recent years in Colombia, Argentina and in several countries in Europe and North America.

Latin America is far from the only region where fake “miracle” products meant to cure Covid-10 are being sold widely on social media. In many countries across Africa, videos showing how to make a concoction of garlic, ginger and lemon meant to prevent or cure Covid-19 have been circulating widely during the pandemic.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: An infectious disease expert debunks COVID-19 remedies circulating on African social media

UPDATE (July 29, 2020): Our original article stated, erroneously, that Dr. Veller promoted using chlorine dioxide. He contacted our team to say that he did not support the use of this product because of a lack of proof regarding its effectiveness and its potential toxic effects.
 
Article by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).