Wherever mass tragedy strikes, there will be vulturous hucksters looking to take advantage of people’s fears. The outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus in China and other countries is no exception. Medical quacks are already trying to sell the very bad idea of swallowing silver to ward off the virus—something that’s more likely to turn you into a real-life smurf than cure anything.
On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch—an arm of the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way—highlighted one such quack on their Twitter account. They shared a clip from conservative televangelist Jim Bakker’s self-named online show. The clip is taken from the February 12 episode, billed as “A Close Look At What’s Not Being Said About The Coronavirus, Part 1.”
In the clip, Bakker holds up a bottle labeled “Silver Solution” and asks guest Sherrill Sellman whether it’s true that it would be effective against “this influenza,” inaccurately referring to the new coronavirus (influenza is a completely different type of virus than the new coronavirus, which was recently given the official name of SARS-CoV-2).
Sellman, who calls herself a naturopath, first briefly notes the product hasn’t been tested on “this strain of the coronavirus” before assuring the audience that it can kill off the virus within 12 hours. She then adds that the silver will make the immune system “vibrant.” Egregious as the clip is, though, it’s not even the first endorsement of silver as a coronavirus-killing machine during this outbreak.
Silver does have some ability to kill microorganisms like viruses, particularly when it’s deployed through tiny nanoparticles in a medical setting. But the so-called alternative medicine world has turned it into a panacea capable of curing practically anything. In that context, it’s often sold in a liquid form as colloidal silver. Though it can be taken by mouth by the spoonful, it’s also put into lozenges and topical gels—all products that the Jim Bakker Show advertised during its broadcast as a part of a “cold and flu” special sale.
Earlier this month, the “Silver Health Institute,” run by someone named Gordon Pedersen, recommended via a badly written press release that silver be used to kill the coronavirus. Pedersen himself, who claims to have won a bronze medal at the 2003 Utah Winter Games (the Winter Olympics in Utah were held in 2002), argued that since silver “will destroy all forms of viruses, it will help protect people from the Coronavirus.”
To be clear here, there’s absolutely no evidence that taking colloidal silver will keep you safe from the new coronavirus, nor “boost” your immune system. Chronic doses of silver, on the other hand, will build up in the body and cause your skin to turn permanently grayish-blue, a condition known as argyria.