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As the second COVID-19 wave continues to ravage the country, some believers have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung in the hopes it will boost their immunity, or help them recover from the virus.
Photos of one shelter in the western state of Gujarat show a group of men covering themselves from head to toe with a mixture of cow dung and urine.
While they wait for the dung to dry, the men hug or honor the cows at the shelter, and practice yoga to boost energy levels, Reuters reported. They then wash off the excrement with milk or buttermilk.
Cows are of special significance to Hindus, who see them as a sacred symbol of life and the earth.
They also believe their dung has therapeutic and antiseptic properties and have used it to clean their homes and for prayer rituals for centuries.
Gautam Manilal Borisa, who works at a pharmaceuticals company, told Reuters that cow dung helped him recover from COVID-19 last year.
“We see … even doctors come here. Their belief is that this therapy improves their immunity and they can go and tend to patients with no fear,” he said, according to Reuters.
But medical officials have warned against this practice, saying that it actually risks spreading other diseases.
“There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief,” said Dr. J. A. Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association, according to Sky News.
“There are also health risks involved in smearing or consuming these products — other diseases can spread from the animal to humans,” he added.
In the last month, the coronavirus has wrought devastation in India as people are struggling to find hospital beds or oxygen, leaving many to die for lack of treatment.
The country has reported more than 24 million cases and more than 264,000 deaths so far, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.