Nasal spray touted as possible COVID-19 treatment gamechanger but health experts urge caution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- What if there was a solution you could put inside your nose that would kill the novel coronavirus and last for three or four hours?

Some companies are touting that prevention technique and selling povidone-iodine already used in hospitals to prevent infection.

But a local health expert is urging caution for something that's not yet proven to be effective against the novel coronavirus in a real-world setting.

"It's often used as a skin antiseptic before surgery," epidemiologist Emily Sickbert-Bennett said.

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She is the director of infection prevention at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill.

Most people, especially those in healthcare, know the main ingredient as Betadine, a solution of the antiseptic povidone-iodine.

It is even used in the noses of some surgery patients, according to Sickbert-Bennett.

"There's some good data for using a nasal application of this prior to surgery, certain types of surgery have been shown to have a decreased risk of infection when this product is used," she said.

Some companies are now marketing the product as a possible over-the-counter pandemic prevention measure.

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But Sickbert-Bennett pointed out that previous experiments that showed it may be effective were done in a lab dish -- not a nose.

"What's not known is how that performs in humans and how much to use and how often to use it," she said.

Front-line healthcare workers and hospital patients are the subjects of a study on the effectiveness of nasal applications of povidone-iodine.

According to the US National Institutes of Health website, one study is expected to wrap up in May.

Sickbert-Bennett said she will be interested in the result.

"The ideal finding is that it actually prevents transmission," she said.

Although povidone-iodine nose spray is a couple of steps away from her endorsement, it has promise, she said.

"The science behind us using it in the hospital setting for preventing surgical site infections does lend us to think that this could be another application for it," she said.

But even then, the effect lasts only a few hours at most.

So, for now, Sickbert-Bennett wants everyone to concentrate on doing what we know works best: wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands.
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