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Coronavirus: Myths vs. Facts

March 24 2020

Many rumours about the coronavirus pandemic are circulating on the internet. It is, therefore, crucial to know what is true and what isn’t

Coronavirus: Myths vs. Facts

Lately, there has been a litany of misinformation doing the rounds across social media platforms. Unfounded information and hoaxes have broken and continue to break the internet. That’s precisely why we must separate fact from fiction so that we can better deal with the coronavirus outbreak. However, before we delve into debunking some of the most common myths about this pandemic, it is necessary to put things in perspective.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) constitute a large family of viruses that usually cause a host of illnesses, ranging from common influenza to more severe conditions like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

The COVID-19, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is a new strain of viruses that were previously not identified among humans.

Symptoms of the infection include respiratory distress, cough, fever, a runny nose, and aching hands and feet (this is not very common). The more severe cases can involve infection-induced pneumonia and acute breathing problems.

Standard recommendations to contain further spreading of the virus include frequently washing your hands, covering nose and mouth while coughing/sneezing, and consuming thoroughly cooked food. More importantly, avoid public spaces, larger gatherings, and close contact with anybody exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above.

Debunking Common Myths

  • Face masks can protect me against COVID-19. Myth or fact?

  • Answer: Some truth
    Mask, while not a complete guarantee and failsafe measure, can capture droplets which so far has been the biggest transmission route of the virus. Masks, however, may not be so effective in capturing aerosols which are tiny virus particles. Specific models of the more professional and tight-fitting masks (N95, for instance) help to guard healthcare workers, considering they care for the infected patients round the clock. Remember that stocking up on professional-grade masks makes those scarce and less available to the ones who need them most – i.e., infected patients and healthcare workers.

  • Eating non-vegetarian food isn’t safe. Myth or fact?

  • Answer: Myth
    There is no evidence to support that the novel coronavirus (or any other virus for that matter) thrives and breeds on eggs, chicken, meat and seafood. Just because the outbreak started from a meat market in Wuhan doesn’t mean you cannot eat non-vegetarian food or dairy items for as long as the infection persists. Make sure to cook the food thoroughly so that you kill the illness-causing viruses and germs.

  • We are at risk from packages that are imported from infected areas, particularly China. Myth or fact?

  • Answer: Myth
    Scientists conclude that viruses, including the novel coronavirus, cannot survive on external surfaces for long. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 from any package or item that was in transit for weeks and subject to ambient temperatures.

  • Alternative medicine has a cure for coronavirus. Myth or fact?<

  • Answer: Myth
    The information that alternative medicine, including home remedies like consumption of garlic and drinking silver, can avert COVID-19 does not hold any water.

    • Drinking silver has not been evidenced to cure COVID-19; on the contrary, it can lead to seizures and kidney damage. Unlike zinc or iron, silver doesn’t have any role to play in the human system.
    • Drinking water every 15 minutes cannot cure coronavirus. Contrary to a social media post, adequate consumption of water, despite having a host of benefits, will not be particularly effective against any respiratory virus. Neither will be taking a hot shower protecting you against the risks of an infection.
    • UV lamps cannot help either. Instead, sterilising your hands under the light of UV lamps can irritate your skin.
    • Garlic certainly has antimicrobial properties. However, no evidence states that consuming garlic can protect against COVID-19.
    • According to WHO, spraying chlorine or alcohol on your body cannot kill the novel coronavirus. In fact, spraying these can harm one’s mucous membranes.

Answering Rarely-asked Questions

  • Can COVID-19 infect pets?
  • As of now, there is no evidence of pets getting infected with the virus. However, there are other strains of the virus that can affect animals. Hence, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against contact with animals and recommends that you wear a mask if sick.

    While the CDC also suggests people travelling to China to avoid coming in close contact with pets, the agency doesn’t give out any reason to believe that animals could be the carriers of this virus.

  • Should I cancel my international trip?
  • Given the current conditions, travelling does present a risk. The idea is to factor in the wellbeing of your family members and fellow passengers. While you may not be particularly at risk of developing symptoms, you can end up infecting somebody who is.

    According to expert advice, you should give up on non-urgent and non-essential travel for the time being; particularly should you be more vulnerable to developing severe complications.

  • What should I expect upon arriving at my international destination?
  • As we write this, most countries have already sealed their borders and skies. While these travel restrictions may be eased in the future, you can still expect to be screened/quarantined if you are coming/ have visited a country where the outbreak has been widespread.

    If I am quarantined at home, what should my coronavirus kit include?

    In case you are quarantined at home, make sure you stock up on certain supplies. These include dry and canned food items, adequate water for every member at home, and a month’s supply of prescribed medicines.

    Make sure you have:

    • Antibacterial soap
    • Toilet paper, tissues
    • Hand sanitizer (with 60% + alcohol content)
    • Antibiotic ointments
    • Bandages, gauze
    • Thermometers
    • Scissors, tweezers
    • Blanket
    • Extra pair of contact lenses, hearing aid batteries (if required)
    • Pain relievers, vitamins and fluids, and other OTC medications for general conditions like heartburn, stomach problems, common cold, etc.
  • How long does coronavirus live on other surfaces?
  • Researchers cannot put the finger on it, but they assume not for a prolonged period. Experts say that this family of viruses can survive on surfaces only for a few hours. While it is still unclear how COVID-19 spreads; coronaviruses, in general, are transmitted through viral respiratory droplets.

    More importantly, no evidence suggests that this new strain can be transmitted through items, particularly imported goods.

  • What are the most credible sources of information about COVID-19?
  • Beware! Misinformation is rampant. As the virus continues to get a foothold across countries, unfounded information and conspiracy theories swell by the day as well. Social media sites have come under a deluge of misleading posts and questionable statistics. Government websites and those of international organisations such as WHO will provide the most credible and vetted information.

    Look out for websites that:

    • Rely on experts for accurate information
    • Have no vested interest, only want to inform and protect the people
    • Are not leveraging the current scenario to sell or promote a product
  • I want to volunteer to help coronavirus-afflicted patients. How should I go about it?
    • Get adequate medical supplies shipped to areas where they are needed urgently
    • Donate to a credible non-profit organisation
    • Support your local businesses
  • I read that it will take 18 months to find a vaccine. If this is true, will people suffer for all this time?
  • At this point, there is no vaccination available for the novel coronavirus. Scientists are working on devising a vaccine, but their efforts will take time to bear fruits. While human trials have already begun, it will take a considerable amount of time before global immunisation becomes a possibility.

    Also, against popular rumours that have been doing the rounds, antibiotics cannot help in preventing or tackling COVID-19. Antibiotics, as the name suggests, only protect against bacterial infections, not viral.

    Till a dedicated course of treatment is available widely, take all the necessary precautionary measures to guard against COVID-19. Reduce person-to-person contact, avoid large gatherings, and maintain personal hygiene at all times. Wash your hands every 20-30 minutes with a bar of soap; follow it up by applying a generous amount of hand sanitizer, and pat them dry with a clean towel.

  • Is there any private laboratory that is screening for coronavirus? If yes, how do I ascertain if it is equipped to handle the same?
  • As India plans to scale up COVID-19 screening, the Indian Council of Medical Research is all set to give 51 private laboratories and hospitals the go-ahead to initiate testing for this viral infection.

  • If my trip is impacted due to COVID-19, will my travel insurance cover it?
  • It’s best to speak to your insurer about the scope of coverage and benefits offered but a travel insurance policy no doubt mitigates some of the losses that you may incur.

    In conclusion

    A pandemic is not the right time to let misinformation flourish. As a responsible citizen, your objective should be to make people aware and adopt necessary steps to contain the viral outbreak that threatens to disrupt economies and derail regular lives.

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