Coconut oil cannot protect against dengue viral infection

Like every year, the cases for the mosquito-borne diseases, Dengue and Chikungunya, have spiked in different parts of India after the end of the summer season. This year the epidemic has lasted much longer than the previous years. A 16-year-old girl died from dengue on November 10, 2019 at a Delhi hospital.

India has reported more than 67,377 cases of dengue fever and 48 deaths as of October 13, according to data released by the Directorate of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP).

Like zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, dengue is a viral disease that spreads through mosquitoes. The virus uses the Aedes mosquitoes as a host and transfers into the human when the affected mosquito bites humans.

Dengue infection has no known cures but treatable symptomatically using evidence-based medications. Subsequently, many forms of alternative and misinformed treatments in India have emerged as a claim to cure and/or prevent dengue.

Alt News Science counteracted another dengue-related claim about papaya extract ‘Caripill’ in our previous sci-check.

Claim:

Application of coconut oil can be protective from dengue-infected mosquito bites due to its antibiotic properties.

A viral message on social media and chat applications such as WhatsApp attributed to a doctor B Sukumar advises application of coconut oil in order to prevent dengue.

Similar claim was also made from the verified handle of Max Health Insurance, as well as an Indian news channel called News Nation.

Fact Check:

Coconut oil is not an antiviral compound and its application will not protect against dengue infection or dengue-mosquito bites.

A: Limited evidence for coconut oil as an antibacterial against bacteria associated with dental caries and diarrhoea:

Two studies have conducted research (Peedikayil et al 2016; Shilling et al 2013) that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties. Both were preliminary studies that tested the effect of coconut oil on bacterial infections with dental caries and hospital-acquired diarrhoea. The bacteria associated with dental caries is Streptococcus mutans and with hospital-acquired diarrhoea is Clostridium difficile, both are distinct organisms as compared to the dengue virus.

Thus, limited evidence from preliminary studies of antibacterial activity does not translate to efficacy as antiviral activity.

B: No evidence for coconut oil as an antiviral:

No studies were found that mentioned coconut oil as an effective antiviral agent. Since the dengue pathogen is a virus transmitted through Aedes mosquito bites, it cannot be protected against using coconut oil application.

C: Evidence for Coconut oil as solvents for mosquito repellants:

Two studies (Sritabutra & Soonwera, 2013; Soonwera & Phasomkusolsil, 2015) mentioned the use of coconut oil application for dengue. In both instances, it was used as a solvent, similar to olive oil to dissolve other mosquito repellent oils. In both studies, there was no mention of coconut oil directly acting as a protective agent against dengue mosquito bites or, its alleged ‘antiviral’ properties.

Conclusion:

There is no evidence that coconut oil can treat a virus infection in humans or prevent mosquito bites. It is dangerous to believe that it can stop the spread of dengue.

References:

A: Coconut oil as an antibiotic agent

    1. Peedikayil FC, Remy V, John S, Chandru TP, Sreenivasan P, Bijapur GA. Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry. 2016 Sep;6(5):447.

Available from: National Center for Biotechnology Information

  1. Shilling M, Matt L, Rubin E, Visitacion MP, Haller NA, Grey SF, Woolverton CJ. Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile. Journal of medicinal food. 2013 Dec 1;16(12):1079-85.

Available from: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

B: None

C: Coconut oil as a solvent for mosquito repellants:

    1. Sritabutra D, Soonwera M. Repellent activity of herbal essential oils against Aedes aegypti (Linn.) and Culex quinquefasciatus (Say.). Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease. 2013 Aug 1;3(4):271-6.

Available from: Science Direct

    1. Soonwera M, Phasomkusolsil S. Efficacy of Thai herbal essential oils as green repellent against mosquito vectors. Acta tropica. 2015 Feb 1;142:127-30.

Available from: Science Direct

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