With coronavirus sweeping across the world, it comes as no surprise that people are seriously panicking. For the uninitiated, coronavirus causes a disease known as COVID-19. Its symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and shortness of breath. The scientifically inaccurate information about coronavirus and how to prevent/cure it being circulated on social media and some incompetent news agencies is only making matters worse. To help you cut through the vast amount of misinformation, we have debunked a few of the popular myths about coronavirus in this article. Check them out.
1 MYTH: Coronavirus is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu.
While it is true that the symptoms of coronavirus are no worse than those of seasonal flu, its mortality rate is higher. While the seasonal flu kills less than 1% of those infected, the WHO has confirmed that 3.4% of the reported COVID-19 patients have died globally (as of March 4, 2020) (1). So, yes, any flu-like symptoms you experience at this point do need to be addressed a bit more seriously.
2 MYTH: Coronavirus only kills older people, so younger people and kids do not need to worry.
The mortality rate of COVID-19 increases with age. It ranges between 0.2-0.4% between the ages of 0 to 49 and steadily increases thereon. It peaks at 14.8% among people who are 80+ years old (2). While it is true that older people and people with pre-existing health conditions are more vulnerable to this disease, anyone of any age can get infected. Moreover, it can cause some serious respiratory problems, regardless of your age or health condition.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible to coronavirus, such as healthcare workers and the immediate family members/caregivers taking care of infected people in close quarters. Therefore, young and healthy people need to report symptoms and follow quarantine instructions carefully to protect the more vulnerable members of the society and prevent the disease from spreading.
3 MYTH: You need to wear a face mask.
This is partly true. A virus can enter your body through your eyes, and aerosols (tiny virus particles) can penetrate face masks. However, they can block the droplets from someone coughing or sneezing near you. The droplets are actually a major way that coronavirus is transmitted.
However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there are only two groups of people who are recommended to wear face masks (3):
- Patients: People who have the coronavirus and/or are showing symptoms should wear them to prevent spreading it to others.
- Carers: Healthcare and social workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients or spend long periods in a hospital should wear masks to protect themselves from infection. Family members/caregivers taking care of patients also fall under this category.
Buying face masks when you don’t fall into these categories increases shortage and leads to price hikes. This puts the healthcare workers and patients who actually need them and all the people around them at risk.
Moreover, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has said that people who are not healthcare providers and don’t know how to wear face masks properly tend to touch their faces more, which can actually increase the spread of coronavirus.
4 MYTH: You need to be around an infected person for 10 minutes to get infected.
Though medical guidelines for the flu state that you need to be within 6 feet of an infected person (who sneezes and/or coughs) for at least 10 minutes to get infected, you can get infected by the coronavirus through shorter interactions. You can also pick up the virus from contaminated surfaces. Hence, make sure you wash and sanitize your hands as often as possible.
5 MYTH: A vaccine will be ready within a few months.
Though a coronavirus vaccine is being developed and experimented on animal models, testing it on humans to spot all side effects and making it commercially available will take much longer. In fact, it would be quick if we got it within a year. The best course of action right now is to prevent it from spreading.
6 MYTH: Home remedies can cure/prevent coronavirus.
While garlic, water, and vitamin C are great for your health, consuming them will not cure or protect you from coronavirus. Other such “remedies” making the rounds on social media are that covering your body with sesame oil, chlorine, or alcohol can kill the virus, which is not true.
You may use chemical disinfectants like chloroform, bleach, peracetic acid, ether solvents, and 75% ethanol to kill the virus on other surfaces (4). But, do not, under any circumstances, apply them to your body. It will not only not kill the virus already inside your body but can also be extremely dangerous.
Stay away from infected patients and wash/sanitize your hands often to protect yourself from the virus.
7 MYTH: People who get infected by coronavirus will die.
As mentioned earlier, the mortality rate of coronavirus is 3.4%, and it is expected to go down as time passes. The reports of death caused by this virus are rarer. However, it can cause serious respiratory conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis in the elderly, small children, and people with weakened immune systems.
Since thousands of cases have been reported and the virus is continuing to spread, even a 3% mortality rate is a cause for concern.
8 MYTH: Hot climate can kill coronavirus.
The US President, Donald Trump, has suggested that coronavirus cannot survive in hotter temperatures and is likely to die out by April. However, public health experts say that there is not enough information on this novel virus, and there is no way to know if heat can kill it (5).
9 MYTH: Pneumonia vaccines can protect you from coronavirus.
No, pneumonia vaccines like pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine do not work on coronavirus. A vaccine for this extremely new virus is currently being developed.
10 MYTH: Rinsing your nose regularly with saline can prevent coronavirus infection.
No, there is no scientific evidence that rinsing your nose with saline can prevent coronavirus infection. Moreover, always wash your hands before touching or cleaning your nose.
11 MYTH: Antibiotics can prevent and treat coronavirus/COVID-19.
Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. However, people being treated for COVID-19 may be administered antibiotics if they have a bacterial co-infection (6).
12 MYTH: Coronavirus is man-made.
Please don’t believe everything you read on Facebook and WhatsApp. Conspiracy theories about the origins of coronavirus are aplenty. While many people outside of China believe that it is a bioweapon that was being developed in a Chinese lab and got leaked, the counter-argument on Chinese social media is that it was released by the US. Scientists on both sides have dismissed theories.
Though the exact origin of coronavirus is still unknown, experts believe it probably originated in bats and jumped to another host before moving on to humans, just like SARS in 2003.
13 MYTH: Hand dryers can kill the new coronavirus.
No, hand dryers cannot kill the new coronavirus. They only blow out warm air and are not designed to kill any kind of icroorganisms. In fact, they can be counterproductive as they suck up the microbes and circulate them around the room (7). Thus, if someone infected with coronavirus coughs or sneezes in the bathroom, the hand dryer sucks up the mucus and saliva droplets they expel and disperses them across the room. This could spread the virus even further.
Therefore, the best course of action is to wash your hands with soap and water or clean them with a sanitizer frequently to protect yourself from this virus (3). Then, use a paper towel to dry them.
14 MYTH: An ultraviolet disinfection lamp can kill coronavirus.
While this is technically true, you should never use a UV lamp on your hands or other parts of your body as it can cause skin irritation.
15 MYTH: Thermal scanners can detect people infected by coronavirus.
Thermal scanners can detect who has a fever because of a coronavirus infection (8). However, they cannot detect the infection if the person has not developed a fever yet. It takes 2-10 days for an infected to fall sick and develop a fever.
16 MYTH: You can get infected by coronavirus through a letter/package from China.
No. Coronavirus cannot survive for long on any object, including letters and packages.
17 MYTH: Pets can spread coronavirus.
Presently, there is no scientific evidence can animals like dogs and cats can get infected by coronavirus. Regardless, wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pets as a precautionary measure.
While this coronavirus outbreak is serious, it is important to educate yourself and stay calm. Panicking will make not only you but also everyone else around you anxious. Follow the preventative measures laid out by trusted medical agencies and wash your hands as often as possible to prevent infection.
Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions
How long does a coronavirus infection last?
In a healthy individual, mild symptoms of a coronavirus infection may last just a few days. Recovery for people with other pre-existing health conditions may take weeks.
How long is coronavirus contagious?
According to the CDC and WHO, the incubation period of coronavirus in the body is between 1 and 14 days. People usually start showing symptoms by day 5 or 6. A study conducted in China suggests that it could also last as long as 24 days (9). Coronavirus is said to be contagious during this incubation period, especially when the infected person is showing symptoms. But cases of it spreading through asymptomatic (infected but not yet sick) individuals have also been reported.
How long does coronavirus last on objects?
At room temperature, the new (human) coronavirus can remain infectious on inanimate objects and surfaces for up to 9 days. Their lifespan shortens at temperatures above 30°C (86°F) (10).
Can coronavirus spread through objects?
Yes, coronavirus can spread through objects if you touch an infected object, then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes without washing your hands. However, this is said to not be the main way that it spreads.
Can coronavirus spread through air?
Droplets of saliva and mucus from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can be carried up to 6 feet. However, experts do not believe coronavirus is an airborne (circulated through air) virus like measles (11).
Can coronavirus spread through food?
The US Food and Drug Authority has released a statement that coronavirus can be transmitted through food or food packaging (12). However, people who handle and prepare food should follow proper hygiene practices (wash hands, avoid sneezing/coughing on food, separate raw meat from other ingredients, cook foods to the right temperature) to minimize the risk.
- “WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 – 3 March 2020.” World Health Organization. (2020)
- “Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” World Health Organization. (2020)
- “Prevention, Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Feb. 2020.
- Wang, Minjin, et al. “A precision medicine approach to managing Wuhan Coronavirus pneumonia.” Precision Clinical Medicine (2020).
- Le Page, Michael. “Will heat kill the coronavirus?.” (2020): 6-7.
- Chen, Nanshan, et al. “Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study.” The Lancet 395.10223 (2020): 507-513.
- 7. Ross, John. “The Bacterial Horror of Hot-Air Hand Dryers.” Harvard Health Blog, 17 May 2018.
- Quilty BJ, Clifford S, Flasche S, Eggo RM; CMMID nCoV working group. Effectiveness of airport screening at detecting travellers infected with novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Euro Surveill. 2020;25(5):2000080.
- Bai, Yan, et al. “Presumed asymptomatic carrier transmission of COVID-19.” JAMA (2020).
- Kampf, Günter, et al. “Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents.” Journal of Hospital Infection (2020).
- “How the New Coronavirus Spreads and Progresses – And Why One Test May Not Be Enough.” How the New Coronavirus Spreads and Progresses – And Why One Test May Not Be Enough.” UC San Francisco, 28 Feb. 2020.
- Office of the Commissioner. “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supply Chain Update.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA.