Posted on: March 17, 2020 at 8:52 pm
Last updated: April 7, 2020 at 9:14 am

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic at the beginning of March. The organization was very clear about the impact of their assessment, and said the following in a statement:

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“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.” [1]

Despite the organization’s efforts to reduce unnecessary fear, their use of the word pandemic has resulted in widespread panic across the entire globe. 

With governments ordering mandatory closures of public spaces, banning all public gatherings, enacting travel restrictions and bans, and closing borders, fear has gripped citizens all over the world.

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As a result of this widespread fear, numerous rumors have begun swirling surrounding the virus. As misinformation continues to spread, it is important to consider everything you read with a critical eye and separate fact from fiction.

The Rumours: Fact Versus Fiction

1. COVID-19 is just like the flu

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses found mostly in animals. They can cause minor diseases in humans such as colds, but can also cause much more severe illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) [2].

The symptoms of the novel coronavirus and the flu are very similar, including fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, and both can cause pneumonia.

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The main difference between the two is the cause- the flu can be caused by a number of different strains of influenza viruses, while COVID-19 is caused solely by the novel 2019 coronavirus. For this reason, it does not transmit as efficiently as influenza.

The other primary difference between the flu and the coronavirus is that there is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.

The term coronavirus can also be confusing, since it encompasses a number of diseases, seven of which can infect people. SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19.

The other coronaviruses that can infect humans are SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. Most people around the world will become infected with one of these viruses at some point during their lifetime [3].

Read: How to Distinguish between the Coronavirus and Flu

2. Everyone with coronavirus dies

As of March 3rd, the World Health Organization has estimated that the mortality rate of the novel coronavirus is approximately 3.4 percent, however, the investigation into the mortality rate of the virus is ongoing [4].

A recent report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention determined that over eighty percent of coronavirus cases are mild [5].

3. Cats and dogs can spread the coronavirus

A dog in Hong Kong tested positive for COVID-19, which led to a rise in concern among pet owners [6]. The dog was concluded, however, to have an extremely weak case of the virus, and officials are asking pet owners to be cautious, but not to be worried.

There is currently no research to support human to animal transmission of the disease, however health officials are encouraging pet owners who are infected to limit contact with their animals.

They are also instructing pet owners to wash their hands regularly and to avoid allowing their animals to lick their faces, as a precautionary measure [7].

4. You can catch coronavirus from urine and feces

John Edmunds, Professor in the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says that this is unlikely

“Every time you swallow, you swallow mucus from your upper respiratory tract,” he explained. “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. With modern, very highly sensitive detection mechanisms we can detect these viruses in faeces. Usually, viruses we can detect in this way are not infectious to others, as they have been destroyed by our guts.” [8]

Read: Photos show why hand sanitizer doesn’t work as well as soap and water to remove germs

5. Everyone Needs Medical-Grade Masks to Protect Themself From the Virus

Healthcare workers wear specific respiratory masks when looking after sick patients, however, these masks are very tightly fitted and are worn in a very different scenario than the general public wearing them outside.

“There is very little evidence that wearing such masks protects the wearer from infection,” explained Dr Ben Killingley, a Consultant in Acute Medicine (Clinical Lead) and Infectious Diseases at the University College London Hospital. “For example studies have shown that the wearing of masks by individuals in a household that contains a influenza infected person does not confer significant protection. Furthermore, by the time household contacts are aware that someone in the household is infected, transmission could have occurred already.” 

He did say, however, that there is some evidence that an infected person wearing a mask could help to contain respiratory secretions [9].

Editors Note (04/07/2020): When this article was initially published, official advice on wearing face masks was mixed. Medical-grade masks are still not recommended for the general public as frontline healthcare workers are in dire need them. However, the CDC now recommends the use of cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Related: Opinion: Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired

6. Cold weather and snow can kill the coronavirus

According to the WHO, there is no reason to believe that this is true because the normal human body temperature remains constant between 36.5 degrees celsius and 37 degrees celsius. This is irrespective of the external temperature [10].

7. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body can kill the virus

Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill any virus that has already entered your body, and spraying these substances can be harmful to mucous membranes, such as your eyes and your mouth.

Both of these chemicals, however, can be useful for disinfecting surfaces, if used correctly [10].

Read: How to Make Homemade Disinfecting Wipes

8. Pneumonia or flu vaccines can protect you from the coronavirus

Unfortunately, no. COVID-19 is so new that we do not yet have a vaccine for it, and vaccines for pneumonia and other respiratory diseases are ineffective. Scientists are currently working to find a vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus [10].

9. Rinsing your nose with saline can prevent infection

While there is some evidence that this may help to relieve symptoms of a common cold, rinsing your nose with a saline solution has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

10. Eating garlic can prevent infection

Garlic has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, however, there is no evidence to suggest that it is effective against the coronavirus specifically [10]. While, in general, it certainly won’t hurt to consume garlic for its immune-supporting properties, it should not be considered as a primary way to prevent or treat COVID-19 specifically.

11. Only elderly people are at risk

People of all ages can be infected with the coronavirus, however there are certain populations who are more at risk for developing more severe cases. Older adults, as well as individuals with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, are at greater risk. Anyone with a compromised immune system is also more likely to develop a more severe infection, and therefore need to be much more cautious [10].

12. Children cannot catch COVID-19

Currently, children do not appear to be at a higher risk for coronavirus than adults. It is still just as important, however, that children practice proper prevention protocols to prevent the spread of the disease to more vulnerable populations [11].

13. Antibiotics can prevent and treat the virus

Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria, not viruses, so they are ineffective against the coronavirus. Some infected people who are admitted to the hospital, however, may receive antibiotics because of a bacterial co-infection [10].

14. You can protect yourself by gargling bleach or vinegar

There are absolutely zero circumstances under which gargling bleach could provide health benefits. Bleach is a highly corrosive substance and can cause severe damage if ingested [11]. While vinegar is far less dangerous, it’s efficacy in this regard is false.

15. Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus

Thermal scanners are useful for detecting fever since a fever causes a higher than normal body temperature, however, a fever does not necessarily indicate that someone has coronavirus.

It can also take between two and ten days for someone to develop a fever after they become infected, and by that point, they could have already passed the virus on to someone else [10].

16. The virus will die off when temperatures rise in the spring

Typically coronaviruses tend to die off as the weather warms up since more sunshine (aka UV light) kills the virus, however it is uncertain as of yet whether or not this will happen [10].

17. Coronavirus originated in a lab in China

This is nothing but an internet rumor. Although there is some debate among scientists and medical researchers as to the origin of COVID-19, the general agreement is that it most likely jumped from pangolins or bats to humans [11].

18. The outbreak came from people eating bat soup

This is another internet rumor that originated from a video that surfaced of a young woman eating bat soup for an online travel show. The video was actually taken in 2016 and has nothing to do with the 2019 coronavirus [11].

19. Coronavirus is the deadliest virus known to man

COVID-19 does appear to be much more serious than influenza, but so far is not the deadliest virus the world has ever seen. The Spanish flu of 1918 infected nearly one third of the world’s population, and Ebola had a mortality rate of about fifty percent [12].

Read: ‘Don’t panic’ says US woman who recovered from coronavirus

20. Parcels from China can spread coronavirus

The coronavirus doesn’t survive well on surfaces, so according to the CDC, there is a very low risk of transmitting the disease on products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures [13].

How to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

The CDC recommends the following simple measures to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus:

  • Clean your hands often. Lathering with soap and water for at least thirty seconds is the best way to remove germs from your hands, but alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be a suitable substitute when necessary
  • Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Practice proper social distancing. You should avoid public spaces, but if you must go out, avoid getting too close to others.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a napkin, and throw that napkin away immediately. Wash your hands after every time you cough or blow your nose.
  • Wear a facemask if you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces [14].

As governments are beginning to put special measures in place to control the spread of the coronavirus, it is important that every individual does their part to help prevent the disease from spreading and to protect our vulnerable populations.

Keep Reading: He Had 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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