Fact check: NC lawmaker encourages treating COVID with Benadryl, milk

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Several questionable COVID-19 treatments have been suggested during the pandemic, from a medication that fights malaria to the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin.

But milk and Benadryl?

A state lawmaker recently posted a study on social media that suggests compounds in those two commonplace products might be effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Rep. Jeff McNeely, R-Iredell, said on Facebook that milk “may be the answer to Covid-19,” before linking to the study published in November by an immunologist at the University of Florida.

The cure for COVID? Not so fast, researchers say.

One of his replies in the chain of comments read: “Drink up People.”

Were those posts meant to be taken seriously, or were they made in jest?

“A little bit of both,” said McNeely — one of the chairs of the House’s agriculture committee who represents the state’s top dairy-producing county.

The study found the combination of diphenhydramine — the active ingredient in Benadryl — and lactoferrin — a protein found in cow and human milk — were found to slow the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating itself in tests in monkey cells and human lung cells.

But there’s a big difference between the results in a lab and those from the real world.

“To push this as a potential therapy — based on this work only — is significantly premature,” said Dr. Timothy Sheahan, a virologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“Lots of things have shown antiviral activity in cells in a (Petri) dish,” he added. “Many of those things when further studied don’t go on to actually have efficacy and activity in a person.”

Dr. David Ostrov, an immunologist and associate professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine, led the study that found that in human and monkey cells, the two drugs individually reduced virus replication by about 30 percent each — but together, that reduction was 99 percent.

But it’s way too early for people to raid the supermarket shelves for milk and Benadryl, Ostrov said. While he is encouraged, he said more work still needs to be done, including clinical trials.

“I would caution people from going out and taking it themselves,” Ostrov said.

Compared to some other substances that have been pushed as treatments, Benadryl and milk come with relatively low risk.

But there’s still a concern that people may try to self-medicate and “chug Benadryl and gallons of milk” instead of consulting with their doctor, Sheahan said.

“That’s the thing that worries me, is that people will take this information and be making decisions about their health when they should be talking to more knowledgeable people about it,” Sheahan said.

When asked if he was worried that his post would be flagged as potential misinformation, McNeely quipped that it “won’t be the first time.”

“You’re in politics, Facebook loves to say you’re giving false information, whether you are or not,” he said.

But the bigger issue might be this: Why do people keep hanging onto so-called miracle treatments in the first place?

“I truly believe there’s a cure out there,” McNeely said. “And we’re not seeing it.”

Sheahan says people “need something to put hope in. And they want some kind of magical therapy that will prevent them from getting coronavirus.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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