Learn to separate fact from fiction when it comes Covid-19. We asked medical experts about the most common myths surrounding the global outbreak of the coronavirus.
The coronavirus and the infection it causes, Covid-19, has rapidly spread to countries and territories all over the world. More than 2.6 million people have been infected with the virus, and more than 180,000 have died in the pandemic so far, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
When the first cases were reported in 2019 in Wuhan, China, it had not been seen previously, making it a novel virus. (Here’s a nurse’s account of what it’s like living in Wuhan during Covid-19.)
“There is no population immunity, which means everyone is susceptible,” says Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, a board-certified internist with additional subspecialty training in infectious diseases who is at Stony Brook on Long Island, New York. “Also, little is known about how long patients without symptoms are contagious, which makes the infection difficult to contain.”
There are a lot of mixed messages and plenty of fallacies surrounding the hows, whys, and whats of Covid-19. We spoke with medical experts to set the record straight by dispelling the most common coronavirus myths.
Myth: Coronavirus is the most dangerous and deadly virus
This is false. More than 80 percent of people who are infected with coronavirus will recover, stresses Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Not every Covid-19 patient has to go to the hospital either,” Dr. Horovitz says. “Many recover on their own at home.” Shortness of breath or severe dehydration are the main reasons to go to the hospital if you have Covid-19. “Most people will get better at home on their own, but you can be in for a long course of illness that lasts several weeks.”
Myth: This is a disease of the elderly and the infirm
This is not true, says Peter Gulick, a professor of medicine at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Lansing, Michigan. People of all ages are at risk for coronavirus. “Older people over age 65 are at higher risk of getting severely ill and dying, but we are all at risk of getting the disease regardless of age,” says Gulick.
Myth: Coronavirus originated from drinking “bat soup”
There is no evidence to support this particular rumor, says Terry Adirim, MD, a professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for clinical affairs at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. It’s true that coronavirus can be found in bats, however, it doesn’t jump from bats to people, Dr. Adirim says. There needs to be something that bridges this jump. The National Institutes of Health points out that two other related viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, also originated in bats.
SARS-CoV, which caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, spread from infected cat-like mammals called civets to people. MERS-CoV, which caused the MERS outbreak in 2012, spread from infected camels to people.
The rumor that the virus spread from bats was fueled by a 2016 video of a vlogger eating “bat soup,” which was recirculated after the coronavirus outbreak, prompting outrage. The video was not filmed during the current outbreak, or in Wuhan, as some people reported erroneously, but actually the South Pacific island, Palau, the vlogger told News Corp Australia.
Myth: Wearing a face mask completely protects you from the coronavirus
This is a tricky one, says Dr. Horovitz. Masks or face coverings mainly protect others from your respiratory droplets, not the other way around. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently urged all Americans to cover their faces with cloth face coverings such as scarves and homemade masks when other social distancing measures are difficult to adhere to (e.g., at the grocery store or pharmacy). The CDC states that N95 medical-grade respirator masks, which do protect against bacteria and viruses, should be reserved for healthcare providers. “If you are near someone who sneezes, a face covering will reduce some exposure to droplets. It’s not an N95. It is better than nothing,” says Dr. Horovitz.
Myth: Spraying yourself with sanitizer can prevent Covid-19 infections
Some people believe spraying themselves with sanitizing products can help protect them from the coronavirus. This is untrue, according to Frederick Davis, associate chair, emergency medicine at Northwell Health, Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. “The coronavirus enters the body through mucous membranes like the mouth and nose, so spraying your body with alcohol, chlorine, or other surface disinfectants will not prevent infections,” he says. “While these substances can be effective means to disinfect surfaces and prevent transmission of viruses, the same chemicals on the skin can be harmful to a person and should not be applied in that manner.”
Myth: Takeout from Chinese restaurants is likely to spread the virus
Chinese restaurants are seeing their businesses plummet. But experts say there is absolutely no reason to stop ordering takeout from your favorite food spots. “It might have been first uncovered in China, but this doesn’t mean that it is a Chinese virus,” says Dr. Adirim.
Myth: You can get coronavirus from groceries or food delivery
This is unlikely, says Dr. Adirim. “If you wash your hands before and after you pick up food and heat it up, you should be protected,” she says. The coronavirus can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours and live on hard surfaces such as plastic or metal for up to three days, according to a March 2020 letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. Taking precautions when you shop for groceries or order food from restaurants can help minimize the risk.
Myth: You can get a coronavirus test now
The situation has improved some since the earlier days of widespread shortages, but tests and testing are still limited in many areas, says Dr. Adirim. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization to some public health laboratories and companies so they can conduct more testing. “There is a lot of variability across the country in terms of test availability, she says. If you think you may have Covid-19, call your doctor; he or she may be able to direct you to a testing facility.
Myth: Home testing is effective
The FDA recently granted emergency clearance for the Pixel home test from LabCorp. But beyond that one, it’s buyer beware when it comes to home Covid-19 tests, Dr. Adirim warns. “Many companies are advertising home tests for Covid-19 or antibodies to this virus, but we don’t know the validity of these tests, she says. Here’s more of what you need to know about at-home Covid-19 tests.
Myth: Once your coronavirus fever breaks, you are in the clear
This is not always true, says Dr. Horovitz. “Many people with this illness think they are turning the corner and feel better and then the fever comes back. This is a pattern we are seeing.”
Myth: Running a blow dryer in your nose will kill the virus
This is crazy and not something you should try, Dr. Horovitz warns. This myth went viral across social media. But “you can’t put hairdryer in lungs where this virus takes up residence so this is useless and dangerous,” he says. Also, a hot bath does not protect you from catching Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes.
Myth: 5G mobile networks spread Covid-19
This conspiracy theory is categorically false, the WHO states. Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. However, you can potentially catch Covid-19 from a dirty cellphone.
Myth: There is medicine that can treat coronavirus
This is not true yet, but it may be soon, says Dr. Adirim. There has been a lot of buzz in the media about antimalarial drugs, convalescent plasma therapy, and an antiviral drug called remdesivir, which was developed to thwart Ebola and related viruses. However: “There is no evidence yet that these drugs prevent, decrease severity, or dampen the body’s ability to transmit coronavirus,” says Dr. Adirim. “There are a lot of therapies that are under study and in the next several weeks, we will see some of the results coming in.”
Viruses, including the coronavirus, cannot be treated with antibiotics. The FDA is keeping a running list of all companies working on potential Covid-19 therapies. Coronavirus experts explain the various potential treatments being suggested for Covid-19, from antiviral medications to drugs.
Myth: Vitamin C fights Covid-19
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and doses confer many health benefits, but fighting Covid-19 is not one of them, says Asim Jani, MD, infectious disease physician at Orlando Health in Orlando. “There is no scientific data to suggest that this works and a high dose of vitamin C may cause kidney stones,” he says.
Myth: Skip the ibuprofen for Covid-19 fever
Many wonder if they should avoid Ibuprofen for Covid-19 fever, but there is no need. There were stories in the news early on suggesting that ibuprofen may worsen the course of coronavirus illness, but that turned out not to be true. “If you have kidney disease, you shouldn’t take ibuprofen,” adds Dr. Jani.
Myth: The pneumonia shot can help Covid-19 complications
It doesn’t work that way, Dr. Horovitz says. “You are less likely to get bacterial pneumonia as a complication of viral pneumonia if you get a pneumonia shot.” If you’re 65 or older, you do need the pneumonia shot.
Myth: Covid-19 is likely to go away in summer
The truth is we just don’t know this yet, Dr. Adirim says. Other viruses do tend to be seasonal and die down in summer months. But “we don’t know if this new virus has seasonality, and we need time to understand how it behaves,” she explains. The WHO states there is evidence that the virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid weather.
Myth: A Covid-19 vaccine is coming soon
Sadly, this is not true, says Dr. Adirim. “Manufacturing a new vaccine is a very complicated process. We need to determine its safety because a potential vaccine could make things worse by turning on your immune system and worsening the infection,” she says. The process involves lab, animal, and human testing. Making matters worse, she adds “we won’t get back to normal until we have a safe and effective vaccine.”
Myth: There’s nothing you can do
Everyone can do something, even while under stay-at-home orders. Gabrielle Armour, a mom of three in New York City, decided to celebrate her 50th birthday by donating food to New York City’s health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic. “It’s going great so far,” she says. “In three weeks, I’ve raised almost $10,000 from donations ranging from $5 to $1,000. We’ve delivered hundreds and hundreds of meals.”
Barbara Commisso Beddia of Hawthorne, New York, was feeling helpless and hopeless due to shelter-in-place orders. “I saw a tutorial on YouTube on making masks and since I always sewed I figured I would volunteer to make masks,” she says. She has made 100 masks and 30 scrub caps for health care workers and her business grew from there. “A local neighborhood site asked if someone would make masks so I decided to make masks for free and have them donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.” Three weeks later she’s still sewing strong.