Coronavirus Myths Explored

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In June 2020, Medical News Today, produced by Healthline Media UK Ltd in Brighton, UK, published a fact check of the top COVID-19 myths. As the coronavirus continues to make the news, a host of untruths has surrounded the topic. In this special feature, some of these myths and conspiracy theories are addressed.

The novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, has spread from Wuhan, China, to every continent on Earth except Antarctica.

The World Health Organization officially changed their classification of the situation from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

The virus has been responsible for millions of infections globally, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. The United States is the most affected country.

As ever, when the word “pandemic” starts appearing in headlines, people become fearful — and with fear comes misinformation and rumors.

Here are some of the most common myths that are circulating on social media.

Myth 1: Spraying chlorine or alcohol on the skin kills viruses in the body.

Truth: Applying alcohol or chlorine to the body can cause harm, especially if it enters the eyes or mouth. Although people can use these chemicals to disinfect surfaces, they should not use them on the skin.


Myth 2: Only older adults and young people are at risk.

Truth: SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, can infect people of any age. However, older adults and individuals with preexisting health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, are more likely to become severely ill.


Myth 3: Children cannot get COVID-19.

Truth: All age groups can contract SARS-CoV-2. So far, most cases have been in adults, but children are not immune. In fact, preliminary evidence suggests that children are just as likely to contract it, but their symptoms tend to be less severe.

On May 15, 2020, the WHO released a commentary about an inflammatory condition, affecting children and adolescents, which may have links with COVID-19. The condition, called a multisystem inflammatory condition, has features similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

Scientists know little about this condition, but research from May 2020 suggests that it is rare, “probably affecting no more than 1 in 1,000 children exposed to SARS-CoV-2.”


Myth 4: COVID-19 is just like the flu.

Truth: SARS-CoV-2 causes an illness that does have flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a fever and a cough. Similarly, both COVID-19 and the flu can be mild, severe, or, in rare cases, fatal. Both can also lead to pneumonia.

However, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious. Different countries have reported different mortality rates, and the case fatality rate in the United States appears to be around 6%.


Myth 5: Everyone with COVID-19 dies.

Truth: This statement is untrue. As we mentioned above, COVID-19 is only fatal for a small percentage of people.

In a recent report, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that 80.9% of COVID-19 cases were mild.

The WHO also reports that around 80% of people will experience a relatively mild form of the disease, which will not require specialist treatment in a hospital.


Myth 6: Cats and dogs spread coronavirus.

Truth: There have been several reports of pet cats and dogs being infected with the virus, including in the United States. In most cases, the pets became sick after coming into contact with people with COVID-19.

Scientists are debating the importance of these cases to the outbreak. For instance, Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said, “We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of the virus. I still think it’s questionable how relevant it is to the human outbreak, as most of the global outbreak has been driven by human-to-human transmission.”


Myth 7: Face masks always protect against coronavirus.

Truth: Healthcare workers use professional face masks, which fit tightly around the face, to protect themselves from infection.

Disposable and cloth masks can protect against droplets, but neither can protect against aerosolized particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people and those who do not know that they have contracted it.

Surgical masks and N95 respirators provide greater protection, but these are reserved for healthcare workers only.


Myth 8: Hand dryers kill coronavirus.

Truth: Hand dryers do not kill coronavirus. The best way to protect oneself and others from the virus is to wash the hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.


Myth 9: SARS-CoV-2 is just a mutated form of the common cold.

Truth: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, all of which have spiky proteins on their surface. Some of these viruses use humans as their primary host and cause the common cold. Other coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, primarily infect animals.

Both Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, began in animals and passed into humans.


Myth 10: You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus.

Truth: The longer people are with a person who has it, the more likely they are to catch the virus themselves, but it is still possible to catch it in under 10 minutes.


Myth 11: Rinsing the nose with saline protects against coronavirus.

Truth: There is no evidence to suggest that a saline nose rinse protects against respiratory infections. Some research suggests that this technique might reduce the symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections, but scientists have not found that it can reduce the risk of infection.


Myth 12: You can protect yourself by gargling bleach.

Truth: People should never put bleach in their mouths. There are no circumstances in which gargling bleach might benefit a person’s health. Bleach is corrosive and can cause serious damage.


Myth 13: Antibiotics kill coronavirus.

Truth: Antibiotics only kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses.


Myth 14: Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus.

Truth: Thermal scanners can detect whether or not someone has a fever. However, other conditions, such as seasonal flu, can also produce a fever.

In addition, symptoms of COVID-19 can appear 2–14 days after infection, which means that someone who has the virus could have a normal temperature for a few days before a fever begins.


Myth 15: Garlic protects against coronaviruses.

Truth: Some research suggests that garlic might slow the growth of some species of bacteria. However, COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and there is no evidence to suggest that garlic can protect people against COVID-19.


Myth 16: Parcels from China can spread coronavirus.

Truth: From previous research into similar coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS and are similar to SARS-CoV-2, scientists believe that the virus cannot survive on letters or packages for an extended period of time.

The CDC explains that “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.”


Myth 17: You can catch coronavirus from eating Chinese food in the United States.

Truth: No, you cannot.


Myth 18: You can catch coronavirus from urine and feces.

Truth: It is unlikely that this is true, but the jury is currently out. Professor John Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, said, “It isn’t a very pleasant thought, but every time you swallow, you swallow mucus from your upper respiratory tract. In fact, this is an important defensive mechanism. This sweeps viruses and bacteria down into our gut where they are denatured in the acid conditions of our stomachs.”

However, it is worth noting that some research concludes that viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 might persist in feces. A recent research letter in JAMA also concludes that SARS-CoV-2 is present in feces.


Myth 19: The virus will die off when temperatures rise.

Truth: Some viruses, such as cold and flu viruses, do spread more easily in the colder months, but that does not mean that they stop entirely when conditions become milder.

As it stands, scientists do not know how temperature changes will influence the behavior of SARS-CoV-2.


Myth 20: Coronavirus is the deadliest virus known to humans.

Truth: Although SARS-CoV-2 does appear to be more serious than influenza, it is not the deadliest virus that people have faced. Others, such as Ebola, have higher mortality rates.


Myth 21: Flu and pneumonia vaccines can protect against COVID-19.

Truth: As SARS-CoV-2 is different than other viruses, no existing vaccines protect against infection.


Myth 22: 5G helps SARS-CoV-2 spread.

Truth: As the world becomes more connected, some regions are rolling out 5G mobile technology. One of the most recent theories to emerge is that 5G is responsible for the swift spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the globe.

Some people claim that 5G helps viruses communicate, often citing a paper from 2011. In this study, the authors conclude that bacteria can communicate via electromagnetic signals. However, experts dispute this theory and SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, not a bacterium.

Wuhan was one of the first cities to trial 5G in China, which helps explain the origin of some of these theories. However, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou also rolled out 5G at a similar time.

It is also worth noting that COVID-19 has significantly impacted countries with very little 5G coverage, such as Iran.


Myth 23: You can catch coronavirus in swimming pools.

Truth: According to the CDC, there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 spreads between people through the water in swimming pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. If these facilities disinfect their water with chlorine or bromine, this should inactivate the virus.

That said, as with all public areas, people can still catch the virus from others who attend these facilities. The virus can spread through inhaling respiratory droplets in the air and coming into contact with surfaces.

People who operate pools should take extra care to clean and disinfect all facilities.

What should be done?

The CDC recommends these simple measures to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2:

• Avoiding close contact with people who appear to be sick

• Trying not to touch the eyes, nose, or mouth

• Staying at home if sick

• Sneezing into a tissue, then throwing it in the trash, or sneezing into the crook of the elbow

• Using standard cleaning sprays and wipes to disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

• Washing hands with soap regularly, for at least 20 seconds

• Wearing a cloth face-covering — in stores, pharmacies and other public settings

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