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No evidence onions can cure ailments or kill viruses

May 12, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Video says that onions can cure bronchitis, fever and kill viruses in the air. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While onions offer nutritional and health benefits, there is no evidence that onions can cure bronchitis, fever or kill viruses in the air if placed around a room.

THE FACTS: Myths around using onions to cure various ailments have existed for years. As medical researchers around the world struggle to find a vaccine for coronavirus, social media users are searching online for ways to treat themselves at home. 

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One video on Facebook with more than 50,000 views was shared with the comment, “onions better than any VACCINE.”

“Do you know if you have fever or bronchitis, if you chop up onions and put it in like a cheese cloth or a thin cloth, put it on your chest, it gets rid of bronchitis?” says a woman featured in the video. “If you have a fever, cut a piece of the onion in slices, put it under your foot bottom and put on a sock. By morning your fever gone.”

The woman also suggests cutting the tops off the onions and then putting them in every corner of a room. “It will pull out every virus, any bacteria out of the air,” she says.

Myths about onions and viruses are totally undocumented by science, said Ruth S. MacDonald, who chairs the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University.

According to the National Onion Association, myths about onions date back to the 1500s when it was said that putting cut onions around a room would protect against the bubonic plague. Back then it was believed diseases were spread through “noxious air.” The myth continued to live on to the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919. 

“In short, there is no scientific evidence that a cut raw onion absorbs germs or rids the air of toxins/poisons,” the association says on its website. 

Dr. Jen Caudle, a family physician and associate professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, said like the claims spreading online about onions, old wives’ tales are sometimes family traditions that are passed down through generations. 

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“They may not be all bad to do, but are they going to cure the problem? That answer is likely no,” she said.  

Medical experts say it is important to consult a health care professional if you are showing signs of fever or bronchitis rather than relying on home remedies.

“While someone may tell us to go try the onion thing, the real thing we should be doing in this day and age, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, is if we are feeling terrible, worse than just a regular cold, we should be talking to our healthcare provider and potentially be evaluated,” Dr. Jason G. Newland, professor of pediatrics at Washington University, said. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536