Traditional Filipino steam therapy ‘Tu-ob’ does not cure COVID-19, says Health Department

A man boils hot water. <i> Photo for illustration purposes only: Dimitri Houteman / Unsplash</i>
A man boils hot water. Photo for illustration purposes only: Dimitri Houteman / Unsplash

The traditional practice of steam inhalation or tu-ob, which the Cebu provincial government has controversially endorsed to its employees to help ward off COVID-19, does not prevent or cure the virus, the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

“We want to reiterate that there is no scientific evidence which proves that steam inhalation or inhaling steam together with salt, lemon and other ingredients kills the virus that causes COVID-19,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire announced in a virtual presser, in English and Filipino.

She said that the home remedy might actually do more harm than good, and “cause accidents such as skin burns.”

“Steam inhalation can also increase secretion in the nose, which may possibly spread sickness through the sneezing and coughing of an individual,” Vergeire added.

Tu-ob is a traditional form of healing where a person drapes a blanket or towel over their head to trap and inhale steam rising from a basin of hot water. Salt, herbs, and tinctures with purported medicinal properties are sometimes added into the hot water, supposedly to help the patient’s body sweat out toxins.

DOH’s statement comes a week after the Cebu Provincial government sent a June 18 memo to its employees urging them to practice tu-ob in their workstations, and days after Governor Gwendolyn Garcia verbally attacked in a publicly broadcast speeach at least one doctor who criticized their endorsement of the treatment.

Read: No To Doctor Shaming: Cebu Governor Garcia skewered for scolding young GP online

In a separate statement yesterday, DOH Region 7 Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas told reporters in a Zoom meeting that there’s nothing wrong with practicing tu-ob, but reiterated that it does not cure COVID-19.

“We are not promoting it, but we are not also prohibiting it,” Bernadas said. Like Vergeire, the director warned people who practice tu-ob against the possibility of “overheating” and “skin burns.”

On Wednesday, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), the country’s leading organization of doctors, called out Garcia’s misplaced faith in tu-ob’s effectivity in a statement.

The PMA said that it “denounces the recklessly imprudent assertions as well as the personal attacks made by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia in the video she released on June 23, 2020. She belittled some doctors who took exception that she promoted the practice of tuob to treat COVID-19.”

The organization also debunked the governor’s “dangerous claims” and maintained that “despite great efforts, there is presently no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, although some medicine[s] have shown promise in treatment.”

The PMA also pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued reminders in handling COVID-19 cases and oversees ongoing studies and clinical trials and treatments, “which do not include steam inhalation or tuob.”

Read: No ‘magic pill’: Health official warns against self-medicating with dexamethasone

It bears repeating that while the folk treatment is widely practiced in Cebu, there is still no known cure for the potentially deadly virus. Even a United Kingdom-based clinical trial on the drug dexamethasone, which has yielded promising results, is still subject to scientific review.

The WHO has maintained that while “traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of mild COVID-19,” there are no medicines that have been shown to prevent or cure the disease.

Paywall: You’re outta here, Coconuts stories are free for all

We have removed our paywall on all Coconuts stories. This does not mean the end of COCO+ Membership at all, but the value proposition is changing.

Rather than being a transactional subscription – whereby you pay for access to content – it is now a true membership program – whereby Coconuts stories are free for everyone but super-fans can monetarily support our independent journalism, and get added member benefits.

If you'd like to support Coconuts, you can become a COCO+ Member for as little as US$5 per year. Thank you!



Leave a Reply

Coconuts TV
Our latest and greatest original videos
Subscribe on

Send this to a friend