COVID-19 Fact-Check: MOS Health Says Sit Under Sun for 15 Mins

Dr Sumit Ray explains that sunlight, vitamin D and heat have a complex relationship with COVID-19. 

Updated19 Mar 2020, 03:14 PM IST
Fit-WebQoof
4 min read

CLAIM

On Thursday, 19 March, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey claimed that staying in the sunlight for 15 minutes will increase Vitamin D, enhancing immunity and destroying the virus - “any virus,” he added.

He advocated staying outdoors from 11 am to 2 pm, when the sun was shining brightly.

True or False?

FIT spoke with Dr Sumit Ray, Critical Care Specialist at Artemis Hospitals who explained that the truth of this claim may be more complex than a simple true or false disclaimer.

“There have been quite a few studies. In fact, there is a meta-analysis of studies in the British Medical Journal, a fairly good one saying that if your vitamin D levels are low and you have been given vitamin D supplementation, then your chances of acute respiratory infections - which include viral infections - can reduce.”

“Will this help with COVID-19? Difficult to say, but the possibility is there. There has not been time to correlate it to COVID.”
Dr Sumit Ray, Critical Care Specialist

11 am to 2 pm Best Time Under the Sun?

Dr Ray added that Choubey’s remarks seemed to be more about vitamin D rather than the heat. However he did say that the timing was off.

“The better time to stay outdoors to absorb the sunlight is early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun is not so harsh. And you have to expose yourself more - the legs and the arms and the shoulders - to really get the effect. Going out from 11 am to 2 pm will mean very harsh sun,” he says.

He adds that it has to be at least a half an hour to one-hour exposure to be useful, not just 15 minutes.

“But enhancing your vitamin D levels is not the worst idea,” says Dr Ray.

Of course, it is important to still practice social distancing, and follow proper hand hygiene and regularly clean your surroundings. Besides, if you become infected with the novel coronavirus or feel symptomatic, it is best to consult a doctor right away.

Does Heat Kill the Coronavirus?

In an earlier interview with FIT, Professor Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director of Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy ( CDDEP) said that, “We do not know how heat will affect this coronavirus as of yet. Usually, respiratory pathogens disappear in the summer and in the heat, but we have seen many cases in tropical countries too.”

Dr Ray says that COVID-19’s relationship with heat is complex too. “See, increased heat and humidity both work against the virus, but they do not knock it out completely.”

What they can do - and this is a positive possibility for India - is reduce the number of people who get infected and help curb community transmission. “If the heat and humidity reduce the numbers that itself will benefit India tremendously. A few experts (from NIV and ICMR) tend to believe this will, but we cannot be sure or exactly predict this.”

Another interesting aspect about the global spread of this virus is that most of it is around 30-50 degree latitude - the temperate region. This includes Europe, USA, Wuhan, India, Northern Iran and excludes places like Sweden, or Africa which fall either too low or too high and have temperatures outside the range too.

“We are all hoping it doesn't hit us too hard! Yes, India has low numbers perhaps because our testing is low, but it is also because of our weather,” says Dr Ray.

“Wuhan is exactly 30 degrees, places more south than that have much lesser cases.”

The Positives for India in Times of COVID-19

Now, India does have its fair share of problems: low testing, poor hygiene and sanitation, overburdened public health systems, and a difficulty in managing the large population to enact social distancing.

But the positives for India, explains Dr Ray, is the weather and age.

“This represents a positive possibility. Another positive is the age. Only 6 per cent of our population is above 65, while in Italy it is 24 per cent.” People over 65 are most at risk of death and serious illness from COVID-19.

Yes, younger patients may spread this disease more, warns Dr Ray, but the mortality will be much less. “We are looking at reducing the surge. If this happens, it gives us time to think of solutions. Also, if we have a lot of people infected without a big surge in deaths, we are also looking at herd immunity and buying time for vaccines,” and essentially flattening the curve.

“H1N1 also came in waves like this. Yes, the mortality was significantly lower, but it was of great help when summer came to deal with it - the numbers reduced, we got time and prepared for next season.”

Dr Ray adds that “If this doesn't happen, it will overwhelm our public healthcare systems and the economy.”

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Published: 19 Mar 2020, 01:34 PM IST

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