Public health experts in service of journalism.

Information equity is a public health issue. Health Desk provides rapid responses to health questions from fact-checkers and journalists. We host content about COVID-19 vaccine created by Science Media Centres around the world.

What do we know so far about COVID-19 and alkalinity?

Eating more acidic or alkaline foods is not related to an increased or decreased risk of COVID-19 infection. Widely circulated social media posts falsely suggest that the pH of COVID-19 ranges from 5.5 to 8.5. Often these posts advise readers to eat alkaline foods (specifically fruits and vegetables) with a pH of more than 8.5 to prevent COVID-19.  Viruses themselves do not have pH levels, because they are not water-based solutions.In chemistry, pH (power of hydrogen, or potential for hydrogen) is a scale used for water-based solutions to indicate if they are acidic (pH below 7, with a lower pH indicating a stronger acid), neutral (pH around 7), or basic (pH above 7, with a higher indicating a stronger base). Since viruses are not water-based, the pH scale does not apply to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the disease that causes COVID-19.While some illnesses or medications may cause blood pH levels to increase or decrease in our bodies, foods eaten as part of a regular diet do not have a significant impact on blood pH. Saliva and urine pH may change in response to diet, but these changes are variable from person to person and **will not prevent or cure COVID-19**. Many claims about alkaline foods preventing COVID-19 refer to a 1991 paper in which another type of coronavirus, the coronavirus mouse hepatitis type 4 (MHV4), was studied in mouse or rat cells in a solution with a pH of 5.5 to 8.5. Mice and rats are not the same as humans, and this study was not conducted in humans or on human cells. In addition, MHV4 is not the same as the SARS-Cov-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and this study was performed well before the SARS-Cov-2 was discovered in 2019. Eating a well-balanced diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables can help support immune function which may help to prevent illness in general, but there is not enough evidence to suggest that a well-balanced diet would be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19. 

What do we know so far about inhaled steroids as a treatment or cure for COVID-19?

In early September of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidance that a class of steroids called corticosteroids - specifically dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, and methylprednisolone - should be considered treatments for severe cases of COVID-19, but should not be used in milder cases. These steroids are given systemically, meaning through the veins or in an oral pill form. Inhaled steroids have not be recommended or approved for use in COVID-19 cases by the WHO or U.S. FDA. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) are used to treat asthma and other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Due to lack of sufficient scientific evidence, whether ICSs protect or contribute to worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients is still debated. According to NIH Clinical Trials website, a randomized clinical study by Oxford University is underway to understand if ICSs can prevent or treat COVID-19. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine Journal published more information in September 2020 on the relation of COVID-19 mortality and inhaled corticosteroids. The publication states that using ICS might reduce immunity to fight viruses and increase pneumonia in patients with COPD. ICS use has also shown protection against COVID-19 by reducing the frequency of exacerbations and replication of SARS-CoV-2. However, there were significant differences in age and underlying illnesses about the groups studied. Common devices used as inhalers include a metered-dose inhaler (MDI), nebulizer and dry-powder or rotary inhaler. There have been rumors circulating about using "nebulizers" to inhale steroids, such as the anti-inflammatory drug budesonide (brand name Pulmicort), to potentially treat COVID-19. "Nebulizers" are a type of inhaler that change liquid medications, like budesonide, into a mist that can be more easily inhaled into the lungs. Nebulizers can be more expensive than the most common type of inhaler used by people with asthma, and patients usually use nebulizers for specific reasons, such as if a child or someone with severe asthma is having difficulties inhaling medicine. Inhaled steroids like budesonide can have side effects, and are also crucial for patients with health conditions who do not have COVID-19, so these should only be used when recommended by your doctor. Budesonide can be inhaled or taken orally, and when inhaled is part of a family of anti-inflammatory medications called inhaled steroids that are primarily used to help manage symptoms for conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Budesonide is a prescription-only drug that is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of COVID-19.

Our mission

Health Desk is an initiative by Meedan.

Healh Desk is committed to making important and topical COVID-19 information accessible and deadline-friendly to newsrooms, freelance journalists, fact-checking organizations, and communicators around the world, in the languages important for you and your audiences.

Health Desk provides context, summaries, and responses to key COVID-19 topics and questions. We are happy to follow-up with more information as-needed, especially when new research might shift the latest scientific understanding of an issue.

Our content comes directly from partnerships with journalists, fact-checking organizations and other non-profit organizations to make sure our research and summaries cover the topics that matter the most.

Our growing team of experts includes researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Stanford Health Communications Initiative, and scientists with experience working around the world and in multiple languages.

Is there a COVID-19 topic or question you’d like us to work on? Send us a question and our experts will do their best to help you.

Statement on editorial independence
Published by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation Meedan, Health Desk commits to independent, nonpartisan reporting and analysis of the topics it covers.As a non-profit organization, Meedan has funders that may in some cases be the subject of discussion and reporting on the Misinfodemia show. We commit to proactive disclosure of any funding, as well as disclosure of other relevant professional relationships between our reporters, editors, producers and funding organizations.Funders of Meedan play no role in editorial decisions, including our selection of content, or hiring or commissioning of contributors.

Our mission

Health Desk is an initiative by Meedan.

Healh Desk is committed to making important and topical COVID-19 information accessible and deadline-friendly to newsrooms, freelance journalists, fact-checking organizations, and communicators around the world, in the languages important for you and your audiences.

Health Desk provides context, summaries, and responses to key COVID-19 topics and questions. We are happy to follow-up with more information as-needed, especially when new research might shift the latest scientific understanding of an issue.

Our content comes directly from partnerships with journalists, fact-checking organizations and other non-profit organizations to make sure our research and summaries cover the topics that matter the most.

Our growing team of experts includes researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Stanford Health Communications Initiative, and scientists with experience working around the world and in multiple languages.

Is there a COVID-19 topic or question you’d like us to work on? Send us a question and our experts will do their best to help you.

Statement on editorial independence
Published by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation Meedan, Health Desk commits to independent, nonpartisan reporting and analysis of the topics it covers.As a non-profit organization, Meedan has funders that may in some cases be the subject of discussion and reporting on the Misinfodemia show. We commit to proactive disclosure of any funding, as well as disclosure of other relevant professional relationships between our reporters, editors, producers and funding organizations.Funders of Meedan play no role in editorial decisions, including our selection of content, or hiring or commissioning of contributors.

Nat Gyenes

Nat Gyenes, MPH, leads Meedan’s Digital Health Lab, an initiative dedicated to addressing health information equity challenges, with a focus on the role that technology plays in mediating access to health through access to information. She received her masters in public health from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, with a focus on equitable access to health information and human rights. As a research affiliate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, she studies the ways in which health information sources and outputs can impact health outcomes. She lectures at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on Health, Media and Human Rights. Before joining Meedan, Nat worked at the MIT Media Lab as a health misinformation researcher.

Megan Marrelli

Megan Marrelli is a Peabody award-winning journalist and the News Lead of Health Desk. She focuses on news innovation in today’s complex information environment. Megan has worked on the digital breaking news desk of the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, and on the news production team of the Netflix series Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. She was a Canadian Association of Journalists finalist for a team Chronicle Herald investigation into house fires in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On top of her role at Meedan Megan works with the investigative journalism incubator Type Investigations, where she is reporting a data-driven story on fatal patient safety failures in U.S. hospitals. She holds a Master of Science from the Columbia Journalism School and lives in New York.

Anshu Shroff

Anshu is a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a Humanitarian Studies, Ethics, and Human Rights concentrator at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. She is a Harvard Voices in Leadership writing fellow and student moderator, Prajna Fellow, and the John C. and Katherine Vogelheim Hansen Fund for Africa Awardee. Anshu’s interests include: systemic issues of emergency management, crisis leadership, intersectoral approaches to climate risk resilience, inclusion and human rights, international development, access and sustainability of global health systems, and socio-economic equity. Anshu has worked at the United Nations, UNDP, UNICEF, Gates Foundation, and the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

Dr. Christin Gilmer

Dr. Christin Gilmer is a Global Health Scientist with a background in infectious diseases, international health systems, and population health and technology. In the last 15 years, Christin has worked for the WHO, University of Oxford, World Health Partners, USAID, UNFPA, the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights and more, including volunteering for Special Olympics International’s health programs and running health- and technology-based nonprofits across the country. She obtained her Doctor of Public Health Degree at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, her MPH at Columbia, and spent time studying at M.I.T., Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School. Christin has worked in dozens of countries across five continents and loves running programs and research internationally, but she is currently based in Seattle.

Dr. Jessica Huang

Dr. Jessica Huang is currently a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Bloomberg City Leadership Initiative. Previously, she worked and taught with D-Lab at MIT, leading poverty reduction and humanitarian innovation projects with UNICEF, UNHCR, Oxfam, USAID, foreign government ministries and community-based organizations across dozens of countries. She also co-founded a social enterprise that has provided access to safe drinking water to thousands in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Formerly trained as an environmental engineer, she earned a Doctorate of Public Health from Harvard and a Master’s in Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) from Stanford. Her projects have won multiple awards, including the top prize in A Grand Challenge for Development: Technology to Support Education in Crisis & Conflict Settings, and led to her being recognized for Learning 30 Under 30. She enjoys being an active volunteer, supporting several non-profits in health, education, environmental sustainability and social justice.

Jenna Sherman

Jenna Sherman serves as a Senior Project Coordinator at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, where she works on tech ethics with an emphasis on mitigating bias and discrimination in AI through policy. Concurrently, she’s pursuing an MPH at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Social and Behavioral Sciences, with concentrations in Maternal and Child Health and Humanitarian Studies, Ethics, and Human Rights. Jenna recently joined Meedan’s Digital Health Lab as a consultant for the COVID-19 Expert Database, following previous experiences helping to develop accessible drug pricing policies, advising governments globally on ethical policy frameworks for AI, and researching access to quality information and health resources of Brazilian women amidst the Zika crisis.

Nour Sharara

Nour is a Global Health Strategy consultant based in Dakar (Senegal) and specialized in health system strengthening. Most recently, she worked with Dalberg Advisors focusing on Epidemic Preparedness & Response and Vaccination Coverage and Equity across 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her previous work experiences include researching the clinical needs in point-of-care technology in cancer care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; and coordinating the implementation of a colonoscopy quality assurance initiative for a colorectal cancer screening program at McGill University in Montreal. Nour has a Master of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a Master of Arts in Medical Ethics and Law from King’s College London, and a Bachelor of Science from McGill University. She is fluent in French and English.

Shalini Joshi

Shalini Joshi is a Program Lead at Meedan and formerly the Executive Editor and co-founder of Khabar Lahariya - India’s only independent, digital news network available to viewers in remote rural areas and small towns. Shalini transformed Khabar Lahariya from one edition of a printed newspaper to an award-winning digital news agency available to over ten million viewers. She has a sophisticated understanding of local media and gender, and the ways in which they can inhibit women from participating in the public sphere in South Asia. Shalini was a TruthBuzz Partner & Fellow with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). She is a trainer in journalism, verification and fact-checking. She has designed, implemented and strengthened news reporting & editorial policies and practices in newsrooms and fact-checking organisations. Shalini set up and managed the tipline used to collect WhatsApp-based rumors for Checkpoint, a research project to study misinformation at scale during the 2019 Indian general elections.

Mohit Nair

Mohit Nair currently serves as Partnerships Director at FairVote Washington, a non-profit organisation based in Seattle, WA. Previously, he worked with the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Vienna Evaluation Unit and with MSF Operational Centre Barcelona in India. He has conducted research studies on diverse topics, including the drivers of antibiotic resistance in West Bengal and perceptions of palliative care in Bihar. Mohit has also worked as a research consultant with Save the Children in Laos to identify gaps in the primary health system and develop a district-wide action plan for children with disabilities. He holds a Master of Public Health from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University.

Dr. Seema Yasmin

Seema Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning medical journalist, poet, physican and author. Yasmin served as an officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where she investigated disease outbreaks. She trained in journalism at the University of Toronto and in medicine at the University of Cambridge. Yasmin was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news in 2017 with a team from The Dallas Morning News and received an Emmy Award for her reporting on neglected diseases. She received two grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and was selected as a John S. Knight Fellow in Journalism at Stanford University iin 2017 where she investigated the spread of health misinformation and disinformation during epidemics.

Saskia Popescu

Dr. Saskia Popescu is an infectious disease epidemiologist and infection preventionist with a focus on hospital biopreparedness and the role of infection prevention in health security efforts. She is an expert in healthcare biopreparedness and is nationally recognized for her work in infection prevention and enhancing hospital response to infectious diseases events. Currently, Dr. Popescu is an Adjunct Professor with the University of Arizona, and an Affiliate Faculty with George Mason University, while serving on the Coronavirus Task Force within the Federation of American Scientists, and on a data collection subcommittee for SARS-CoV-2 response with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. She holds a PhD in Biodefense from George Mason University, a Masters in Public Health with a focus on infectious diseases, and a Masters of Arts in International Security Studies, from the University of Arizona. Dr. Popescu is an Alumni Fellow of the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative (ELBI) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Health Security. She is also an external expert for the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), and a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship at George Mason University. In 2010, she was a recipient of the Frontier Interdisciplinary eXperience (FIX) HS-STEM Career Development Grant in Food Defense through the National Center for Food Protection and Defense. During her work as an infection preventionist, she managed Ebola response, a 300+ measles exposure resulting in an MMWR article, and bioterrorism preparedness in the hospital system. More recently, she created and disseminated a gap analysis for a 6-hospital system to establish vulnerabilities for high-consequence diseases, helping to guide the creation of a high-consequence disease initiative to enhance readiness at the healthcare level.

Ben Kertman

Ben Kertman is a behavior change scientist and public health specialist who became a user research consultant to help organizations design experiences that change behaviors and improve human well-being. Impatient with the tendency of behavior change companies to use a single discipline approach (e.g. behavioral economics) and guard their methods behind paywalls, Ben spent the last 7 years developing an open-source, multi-discipline, behavior change framework for researchers and designers to apply to UX. Ben is an in-house SME at Fidelity Investments and consults for non-profits on the side. Ben holds a masters in Social and Behavior Science and Public Health from Harvard.

Emily LaRose

Emily LaRose is a Registered Dietitian and currently works as a consultant to The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). She has been a dietitian for more than 15 years and has previously worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), PATH, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Johnson & Wales University. In her work she has written specialty reports on topics including global human milk banking practices and innovative food system programs; developed tools and protocols for clinical nutrition care delivery in humanitarian hospitals; taught university-level clinical nutrition courses; and provided nutritional care for critically ill hospitalized patients. Emily is currently a Doctor of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health where she has completed the Nutrition and Global Health Concentration. She also holds a Master of Science in Dietetics from Kansas State University and a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts Nutrition from Johnson & Wales University.

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