Can Chewing Gum Reduce Omicron Transmission?

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Key Takeaways

  • Preliminary research suggests that a special chewing gum may help reduce the risk of Omicron transmission in people who are infected.
  • The special plant-based gum traps viral particles and reduces viral load to undetectable levels.
  • The study's researchers plan to start clinical trials next week.

A new study suggests that a special chewing gum help lower the risk of an infected person passing on COVID-19.

The study, which was published in the journal Biomaterials, focused on gum that contained a protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which helps absorb genetic material from the COVID-19 virus.

Researchers used saliva from people who were infected with Delta or Omicron variants of COVID-19 and tracked how the virus’s particles attached to the ACE2 receptors in the gum.

Their discovery? The viral load (how much virus is present) in saliva samples fell to undetectable levels for up to 20 minutes after coming into contact with the gum.

It’s important to note that the study is preliminary—it was conducted in a lab and not through people actually chewing the gum. But the researchers end goal is to try to find something that will allow COVID-19 patients to have shorter isolation periods without putting others at risk.

How It Works

The researchers used two different types of gum: one made with lettuce cells and another created with bean powder.

While both seemed to effectively trap COVID-19 particles in lab experiments, the gum made with bean powder also trapped flu strains and other coronaviruses that cause common colds.

“It’s critical to appreciate what the study truly did,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Verywell. “It showed a decrease in the amount of virus, often to undetectable levels.”

But Russo stressed that the researchers haven’t yet shown that chewing this gum will actually lower the amount of virus a person sheds or the degree to which chewing gum could reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Instead, he said, this is a “foundational study” that indicates this is a concept that could work.

What It Can't Do

According to Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, regardless of its effect on COVID transmission, the gum will not reduce the length of infection or make someone's COVID case better.

"This has nothing to do with symptoms," Adalja told Verywell.

What Happens Next

The gum isn’t currently available to the masses and it’s different from “regular” chewing gum, Russo said. It also needs to be tested in clinical trials before it would be available to purchase.

Lead study author Henry Daniell, PhD, professor and director of translational research at the school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told Verywell that plans for a clinical trial are underway.

“Recruitment will start next week,” Daniell said.

His team is currently looking for 40 study participants to try the gum and are hoping to have results from their Phase II research in a few months.

In the meantime, experts suggest following recommendations from public health officials if you happen to contract COVID-19, including isolating for at least five days and wearing a mask when you need to be around others for at least 10 days after your symptoms started.

“At this point, people need to continue to do what we know works in terms of preventing transmission, which is isolation and masks,” Russo said. 

What This Means For You

Right now, isolating and wearing a mask are the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, in the future, chewing a special gum may also lessen the risk you’ll infect others when you have COVID-19.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Daniell H, Nair SK, Guan H, et al. Debulking different Corona (SARS-COV-2 delta, omicron, OC43) and influenza (H1N1, H3N2) virus strains by plant viral trap proteins in chewing gums to decrease infection and transmissionBiomaterials. Published online July 2022. doi:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2022.121671

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.