Fact or fiction? Coronavirus myths


[4 MIN Read]

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the web and across airwaves relating to coronavirus or COVID-19. As a clinical health system committed to serving vulnerable populations, we rely on fact-based, science-backed data to inform the content we bring to our patients and readers. Today, we are taking on some myths about the nature of the COVID-19, treatments, and conspiracy theories.

Ready to dispel some myths? Read on.

Myth 1: Saline, garlic, and sesame oil can prevent coronavirus infection


In recent weeks, several myths have circulated that promise to help prevent a person from contracting the coronavirus. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has received several questions about whether certain over-the-counter items – including saline nasal spray, garlic, and sesame oil – can prevent the coronavirus.

However, WHO notes that there's "no evidence" that any of those products can ward off COVID-19. WHO explained that while there's "some limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold," there's "no evidence" the practice can protect people from the new coronavirus.

In addition, WHO states that although "garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties," there's "no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus."

Similarly, WHO said there's no evidence to suggest using sesame oil to "block" the virus "from entering the body." Sesame oil does not kill the new coronavirus.

It's also important to keep in mind that, to date, there's no known preventive treatment for the new coronavirus. WHO notes that while researchers, including those in the United States, are pursuing possible vaccines against SARS-CoV2, no vaccine is currently available. Right now, the best methods of prevention, according to CDC, are to avoid close contact with sick individuals, wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, clean and disinfect hard surfaces, and limit touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Learn more on the WHO Q&A website.

Myth 2: The new coronavirus is 'the most dangerous virus' and 'a death sentence'


Currently, discrepancies in how different countries report individual cases and determine how contagious the virus is makes it hard to determine a precise global case count, let alone an accurate mortality rate. For example, in China, officials in the Hubei province have reported cases of the virus that weren't confirmed by lab tests but that providers had diagnosed by other means, such as a patient's symptoms and CT scan results. Meanwhile, other countries—such as the United States—are reporting only cases that have been confirmed by lab tests, while some are reporting both confirmed and suspected cases.

All of this means experts don't yet have a clear picture of how deadly COVID-19 is when compared with other viruses. That said, research published Monday in JAMA suggests the mortality rate for COVID-19 currently is around 2%—though researchers noted that rate fluctuates based on patient population. For instance, the case fatality rate was 0% among children ages 9 and younger, 8% among patients ages 70 to 79, and 14.8% for patients over age 80.

While the case fatality rate may fluctuate by age group, the overall average of around 2% makes the virus—at least for now—far less deadly than others—like SARS-CoV, which WHO estimates has an average case fatality rate of 15%, and Ebola, which has an average case fatality rate of about 50%.

Myth 3: Spraying your body down with alcohol or chlorine, or swallowing bleach, can kill the new coronavirus


Another myth that's been gaining traction is that dousing oneself in alcohol or chlorine can kill the new coronavirus. However, WHO notes that while there is evidence that chemical disinfectants, such as those containing bleach or chlorine, can kill COVID-19 on surfaces, the products will not ward off the virus when used on human skin. What's more, WHO warns that using those chemicals on your skin can be "harmful."

Similarly, Gregory Poland, a virus expert and head of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, told Healthline's Joni Sweet that drinking so-called "Miracle Mineral Solutions" won't cure you of the coronavirus because the virus attacks "your respiratory cells, not your gastrointestinal system." Further, FDA since 2010 has warned consumers not to consume Miracle Mineral Solutions because they are "dangerous" and "become a strong chemical that is used as bleach."

Based on available evidence, both the WHO and CDC have indicated that there is no known treatment for the new coronavirus at this time. As CDC states, "There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for" treating a SARS-CoV2 infection, which is also known as COVID-19.

Myth 4: Pets can become infected with and spread the new coronavirus


While researchers believe that SARS-CoV2 originated in animals, both CDC and WHO say there is no evidence suggesting that companion animals, such as dogs and cats, can be a source of infection for humans.

However, both CDC and WHO caution that you should continue to wash your hands after contact with pets or animals to prevent the general spread of bacteria. CDC also notes that, if you are infected with COVID-19, you should avoid contact with pets as you would other humans, as an extra precaution.

Myth 5: The new coronavirus is man-made


When news of coronavirus first broke last December, it wasn't long before the conspiracy theories began. Some connected the virus to a covert biological warfare program run by the Chinese government.

One theory claims that a lab run by the Chinese government, called the Wuhan Institute of Virology, created SARS-CoV2 as a potential bioweapon, and that the virus somehow escaped from the lab and ultimately infected people in Wuhan. In another version of the myth, people suggest Canadian researchers created the virus and then sold it to China. These rumors have all been fueled by China's history of secrecy and lack of transparency on public health matters.

However, public health experts from around the globe say there's no actual evidence to support those theories, and that initial research into the virus suggests it occurred naturally from animals, similar to the progression of the coronaviruses SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. As WHO explained, "Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people."

In fact, a group of 27 public health scientists in a statement published on 19 February 2020 in The Lancet, a medical journal,  explained that multiple analyses have found COVID-19 "originated in wildlife." They added, "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that [SARS-CoV2] does not have a natural origin."

Our goal is to keep you informed in a way that hopefully reduces your stress levels during this difficult time. With all the diversity of thought across America, there’s going to rumors, conspiracy theories and misinformation.


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The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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