People wait in a socially distanced line to get their COVID-19 vaccinations at Gillette Stadium, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. Credit: Steven Senne / AP

A popular topical iodine-based antiseptic is the latest drug to be misused as an unproven and potentially deadly treatment for COVID-19.

Sold under the brand name Betadine, the antiseptic is approved for wound care, vaginal douching, sore throat gargle and skin cleanser products. None of them are intended to be swallowed.

The use of Betadine to prevent or treat COVID-19 is similar to the misuse of the livestock dewormer Ivermectin and the herb wormwood as alternatives to taking the COVID-19 vaccines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Last month Avrio Health, the makers of Betadine, issued a  consumer statement warning people against drinking the product and that there is no evidence doing so kills the virus.

“Betadine Antiseptic First Aid products should only be used to help prevent infection in minor cuts, scrapes and burns,” according to the company statement on its website. “Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or any other viruses.”

The company also warns against gargling with Betadine.

“This is something that is used for wound treatment,” according to Christine Cattan, pharmacist at Bangor Drug. “It is one of the broad spectrum antiseptics.”

Using it for anything other than its intended purpose can have dire consequences, Cattan said.

“It can lead to acute kidney injury and renal failure if used long enough and long term misuse can cause hypoxia and even slowing of the heart rate,” she said. “In small doses the minimum it will do is cause vomiting, diarrhea and not anything that is comfortable.”

There are two studies that looked at possible uses of the antiseptic in treating COVID-19. Neither confirmed it as a proven treatment. A study out of Rutgers University on the generic povidone iodine never went beyond an artificial laboratory environment and it was found to damage skin cells. A second study by a team of international researchers published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, concluded more study was needed.

“I would not use [Betadine] as a COVID-19 treatment,” Cattan said. “Rely on the vaccine which is proven to ramp up your immune system.”

When in doubt, Cattan said, consult with a responsible medical provider or licensed pharmacist.

“Do not consult Google or Wikipedia,” she said. “And Dr. Facebook is not real.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.