12 Myths About Coronavirus, According to the World Health Organization
Knowledge is power—and protection.
As the novel coronavirus—now known as COVID-19—continues to spread across the globe, so does misinformation surrounding it. While it’s true that there is still a lot to be learned about the incredibly infectious and sometimes deadly disease that originated in Wuhan, China, there are many things we do know about it in terms of how it can and can’t be spread and prevented.
Still, that hasn't stopped myths regarding the coronavirus from circulating. Luckily, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to debunk all of those falsehoods with some pretty helpful graphics. (Knowledge is power, especially when we may be on the brink of a pandemic.) Here's what you need to know about the myths surrounding COVID-19—and what the experts have to say about them.
Myth #1: Hand dryers can kill the new coronavirus
Nope. According to the WHO, hand dryers are not effective in killing the new coronavirus. Instead, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently (or clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub), then dry them thoroughly with paper towels or a warm air dryer.
Myth #2: An ultraviolet disinfection lamp can kill the new coronavirus
So, it's true that some hospitals use UV light to kill microbes on surfaces—like in operating rooms or labs—but, per the WHO, UV lamps should never be used to sterilize hands or skin, as they can cause skin irritation.
Myth #3: Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people infected with the new coronavirus
This one's twofold: While thermal scanners can detect fevers (aka, a higher than normal body temperatures) in those infected with the coronavirus, they cannot detect the infection in those who are not yet showing symptoms. "This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever," the WHO explains.
Also important to note: The flu also causes similar symptoms to COVID-19, including a fever—so just because someone has a fever doesn't necessarily mean they've been infected with the new coronavirus.
Myth #4: Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body can kill the new coronavirus
While spraying alcohol and chlorine is a great method to disinfect surfaces—and even using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help keep your hands clean—using the chemicals all over your body isn't going to kill the virus if you've already been infected. “Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth),” the WHO points out.
Myth #5: It isn’t safe to receive a letter or a package from China
This simply isn’t true, according to the WHO. “People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus,” they explain. “From previous analysis, we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.”
This type of thinking is also harmful since it only helps perpetuate the stigmatization of specific populations linked to the coronavirus. This stigma—which can force people to hide their illnesses, prevent people from getting health care immediately, and discourage people from following healthy behaviors—can lead to more severe health problems and ongoing transmission, per the WHO.
Myth #6: Pets can spread the new coronavirus
While pets can spread certain forms of coronavirus, the WHO confirms that presently, there is no evidence that your domesticated animals can be infected with or spread the new coronavirus.
"However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets," according to the WHO. “This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”
Myth #7: Pneumonia vaccines can protect you against the new coronavirus
Currently there is no vaccine to protect you against coronavirus—including pneumonia vaccines, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine. “The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine,” the WHO explains. That said, researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus ASAP—it just may not be ready in time to battle the current outbreak.
Still, despite the pneumonia vaccines and other flu vaccines not being effective against COVID-19, the WHO still suggests getting vaccinated against respiratory illnesses to protect yourself from those specific illnesses.
Myth #8: Regularly rinsing your nose with saline can help prevent infection with the new coronavirus
While regularly rinsing your nose with saline may help you recover more quickly from the common cold, it hasn't been shown to help prevent respiratory infections in general, including coronavirus.
Keep in mind too, when you do rinse your nose with saline to help cold symptoms, make sure the product is sterile. And if you opt for a neti pot, make sure that water has also been sterilized—either distilled water or water that's been boiled and then cooled back down—instead of tap water, which can increase your risk of infection.
Myth #9: Eating garlic can help prevent infection with the new coronavirus
If you've ever eaten a piece of raw garlic, you know that stuff is pungent—but it won't protect you against illness. Despite having some antimicrobial properties, according to the WHO, “there is no evidence” from the current outbreak that the potent herb will protect you from coronavirus.
Myth #10: Slathering yourself in sesame oil can block the new coronavirus from entering the body
We're not entirely sure where this myth come from, but rubbing sesame oil all over your body definitely won't keep the coronavirus away.
Per the WHO, “there are some chemical disinfectants that can kill the 2019-nCoV on surfaces," including bleach and chlorine-based disinfectants, ether solvents, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid, and chloroform.”However, they have little or no impact on the virus if you put them on the skin or under your nose.” In fact, it can even be downright dangerous to put those chemicals on your skin.
Myth #11:The new coronavirus only affects older people
Unfortunately, people of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus. However, "older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus,” the WHO points out.
Myth #12: Antibiotics are effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus
Keep in mind that antibiotics do not work against viruses of any kind—only bacteria. So, because the new coronavirus is an actual virus, “antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment.”
In fact, there are no specific medications recommended to treat or prevent the new coronavirus at all, per the WHO. "However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care,” the WHO explains, adding that some specific treatments are also under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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