Coronavirus myths explored
As coronavirus continues to make the news, a host of untruths has surrounded the topic. In this Special Feature, we address some of these myths and conspiracies.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 (WHO) officially changed their classification of the situation from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
To date, the novel coronavirus has been responsible for over 2.4 million infections globally, causing more than 170,000 deaths. In the United States alone, over 780,000 people have contracted the virus.
As ever, when the word “pandemic” starts appearing in headlines, people become fearful — and with fear come misinformation and rumors.
Here, we will dissect some of the most common myths that are currently circulating on social media and beyond.
1. Spraying chlorine or alcohol on the skin kills viruses in the body
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.
These products cannot kill viruses within the body.
2. Only older adults and young people are at risk
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 asthma, are more likely to become severely ill.
3. Children cannot get COVID-19
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.
4. COVID-19 is just like the flu
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. Estimates vary, but its mortality rate seems to be between about 1% and 3%.
Although scientists are still working out the exact mortality rate, it is likely to be many times higher than that of seasonal flu.
5. Everyone with COVID-19 dies
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 report that around 80% of people will experience a relatively mild form of the disease, which will not require specialist treatment in a hospital.
Mild symptoms may include a fever, a cough, a sore throat, tiredness, and shortness of breath.
6. Cats and dogs spread coronavirus
Currently, there is little evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can infect cats and dogs. However, in Hong Kong, a Pomeranian whose owner had COVID-19 also contracted the virus. The dog did not display any symptoms.
Scientists are debating the importance of this case to the outbreak. For instance, Prof. Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, says:
“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.”
He continues: “We need to find out more, but we don’t need to panic — I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels of the virus. The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”
7. Face masks always protect against coronavirus
Healthcare workers use professional face masks, which fit tightly around the face, to protect themselves from infection.
Disposable masks are unlikely to provide such protection, and they will not block tiny viral particles. However, a cloth mask can help prevent the spread of droplets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.
When wearing a mask, it is essential to continue with other precautions, such as not touching the face and practicing physical distancing.
Surgical masks and N95 respirators provide greater protection, but these are reserved for healthcare workers only.
8. Hand dryers kill coronavirus
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.
9. SARS-CoV-2 is just a mutated form of the common cold
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 (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) began in animals and passed into humans.
10. You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus
The longer someone is 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.
11. Rinsing the nose with saline protects against coronavirus
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.
12. You can protect yourself by gargling bleach
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.
13. Antibiotics kill coronavirus
Antibiotics only kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses.