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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen December 16, 2022

No, a garlic salve cannot be used to treat RSV, croup or pneumonia

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  • There is no scientific evidence that garlic can be used to treat respiratory illnesses. 

As the United States is in the midst of a winter "tripledemic" with rising cases of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV,  an Instagram post claims a garlic salve can alleviate the symptoms of RSV and pneumonia — especially among children.

The Dec. 4 post includes video instructions for making the salve — which a text overlay says is for "RSV, croup, cough and pneumonia" — using a mixture of minced garlic, lard, olive oil and beeswax. 

"A well-crafted garlic salve, harnessing the power of one of nature’s most potent broad-spectrum antibiotics (found in the compound allicin), holds the willingness to heal any ailment of the lungs and respiratory system," the post’s caption reads. 

The caption also says the salve is "gentle enough to be used on babies and children of all ages!" 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Garlic does have antiviral and antibacterial properties, but doctors told PolitiFact the post overstates the plant’s ability to treat illnesses such as RSV, croup and pneumonia. There’s no scientific evidence that garlic can be used to treat respiratory illnesses. 

Dr. Jason Nagata, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, said he knows of no evidence that supports the post’s claim. 

Although there have been no studies to examine garlic’s impact on those RSV, croup and pneumonia, Nagata said past studies have looked at the plant’s ability to protect against the common cold. 

A study in 2001 found that people who were given garlic capsules showed fewer occurrences of contracting a cold than those who received a placebo. Because it was only a single study with these results, Nagata said there was "insufficient evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold."

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A review of the study found that more trials would be needed to validate its findings; it adds that claims of garlic’s effectiveness in treating an illness "rely largely on poor-quality evidence."

Dr. Elizabeth Ko, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Collaborative at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the allicin and alliin compounds in garlic have "immunomodulatory effects," meaning they have the ability to regulate the immune system. But a topical salve "may not have as therapeutic of an effect as consumed garlic," Ko said.

RSV, which is most dangerous in children younger than 5 and older adults, can cause coughing, fever and runny nose.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are currently no specific treatments for an RSV infection. Most infections typically resolve on their own within two weeks, but severe cases can lead to hospitalization.

Croup, a viral infection that often occurs in young children, causing their airways to swell, can cause a barking cough, labored breathing and fever. Doctors may prescribe steroids to help reduce swelling in airways until the infection passes. 

Pneumonia is an infection that can impact one or both of a person’s lungs and is caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. Treatments vary on the type of pneumonia, from antibiotics to antiviral medicine.

Our ruling

An Instagram post says a "well crafted garlic salve" can "heal any ailment of the lungs and respiratory system."

Doctors told PolitiFact a topical garlic salve would be an ineffective treatment against respiratory illnesses, and there is no scientific evidence that it works.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post (archive), Dec. 4, 2022

The New York Times, "It’s Time to Wear a Mask Again, Health Experts Say," Dec. 13, 2022

Email interview with Dr. Elizabeth Ko, medical director of UCLA Health Integrative Medicine Collaborative, Dec. 15, 2022

Email interview with Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, Dec. 14, 2022

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Garlic for the common cold, Nov. 11, 2014

Advances in Natural Therapy, Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey, July-August 2014

NPR, "RSV is surging. Here's what to watch for and answers about treatment options," Nov. 2, 2022

CDC, Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) Symptoms & Care, Oct. 24, 2022

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, "How to treat RSV at home and when to go to the doctor," Nov. 10, 2022

Mayo Clinic, Croup, Dec. 3, 2022

Johns Hopkins Medicine, Pneumonia, accessed Dec. 16, 2022

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No, a garlic salve cannot be used to treat RSV, croup or pneumonia

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