There's a lot of false information about coronavirus circulating, even one year later. Here's what you need to know.

By Leah Groth and Claire Gillespie
Updated March 10, 2020
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It's been over a year since COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, started to spread across the world. On March 11, 2020, the health crisis was labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

We're much more aware of the risks of COVID-19 now, as well as what we need to do to curb the spread of the virus. However, myths still circulate. Here are some of the some persistent myths surrounding COVID-19—and what the experts have to say about them.

Myth 1: Hand dryers can kill the new coronavirus

This was a myth that started early in the pandemic, and it's still not true, says the WHO.

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

Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products, or packaging, says the CDC. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Believing and spreading the message that it's not safe to get something through the mail from China is harmful because it helps perpetuate the stigmatization of specific populations linked to COVID-19. 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

We still don't know the exact source of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the CDC says it originally came from an animal, likely a bat. However, there's no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people, and the CDC says the risk is considered to be low. 

More research is required to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. In the cases of animals with COVID-19 that have been confirmed, it appears that the transmission was from people to animals and not the other way around. 

However, it's still advisable to make sure your pets follow some of the same preventive COVID-19 measures that you practice. For instance, don't let your pets interact with people or other animals outside the household, and avoid dog parks or other crowded areas where people and animals play. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says to keep at least 6 feet of space from other people and animals when you're walking your dog.

The CDC says people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife. And if you get sick with COVID-19, isolate yourself from your pet as well as other people and animals, says the CDC. (Ask a friend or family member to care for your pet until you recover.)

Myth 7: Pneumonia vaccines can protect you against the new coronavirus

Currently, there are three vaccines in the US to protect you against coronavirus—from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). They all have high rates of efficacy: 95%, 94%, and 65%, respectively. 

So there's absolutely no need to get another type of vaccine, such as a pneumonia vaccine, to protect against COVID-19. And in any case, it wouldn't work! Each new virus needs its own vaccine.

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

It's not entirely clear 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

Nope. People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19. 

The WHO points out that "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." 

However, anybody can have a severe form of the illness. According to the CDC, some children develop severe COVID-19 illness, and the risk is greater for those with certain underlying medical conditions—research is ongoing to determine which conditions are associated with increased risk. 

The CDC notes that children with the following conditions might be at increased risk for severe illness: obesity, medical complexity, severe genetic disorders, severe neurologic disorders, inherited metabolic disorders, sickle cell disease, congenital (since birth) heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma and other chronic lung disease, and immunosuppression due to malignancy or immune-weakening medications.

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.

Myth 13: Wealthy elites intentionally spread the virus to win power and profit

The unsubstantiated claims that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci used their power to profit from COVID-19 exploded following a 26-minute conspiracy theory film named Plandemic, featuring discredited former research scientist Judy Mikovits, PhD. The film was widely shared by anti-vaxxers and the conspiracy theory group QAnon, and it was viewed millions of times on social media before it was taken down.

Over the following months, several fact-checking websites found that the film was full of misinformation and false claims about Gates and Dr. Fauci. 

Myth 14: COVID-19 is no worse than the flu

From the early days of the pandemic, many people—including former president Donald Trump—repeatedly claimed that COVID-19 was no more dangerous than the flu that does the rounds every winter. 

Although we don't know COVID-19's exact mortality rate, epidemiologists believe it is far higher than that of the flu. The CDC estimates that the flu causes roughly 12,000 to 61,000 deaths per year in the US. But to date, COVID-19 has caused more than 535,000 deaths in the country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Plus, a lot of people have some level of immunity to the flu because of vaccination or prior infection, but COVID-19 is a new illness. 

Myth 15: Warmer weather will stop the spread of the coronavirus

Friendly reminder: As of March 2021, the US has experienced one summer with COVID-19—and the warm weather didn't do much for slowing down the virus. Research backs this up, too; in October, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin said that the virus spreads with about the same efficiency regardless of air temperature and humidity.

This contradicted an earlier report from the US Department of Homeland Security suggesting that increased summer temperatures, humidity, and sunlight could present a barrier to COVID-19 transmission. 

Experts agree that human behavior remains the biggest factor in the spread of COVID-19. 

Another thing to consider is that hot weather increases the risk for hospitalization and death, especially among older adults, whose bodies have to work harder to adjust to temperature changes. The bottom line? This could put additional stress on hospitals and health care systems around the country that are fighting to recover from the burden of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Myth 16: If you wear a face mask, you don't need to socially distance

The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people. This is to protect other people, as well as yourself. However, a mask isn't a substitute for social distancing, and should be worn in addition to staying at least six feet apart from others who don't live in your household. 

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face coverings in public areas where it is difficult to maintain a six-foot distance from others. 

Myth 17: 5G spreads the virus 

Another COVID-19 conspiracy theory is that the virus is spread by 5G, a broadband cellular network. Supporters of this myth often refer to a 2011 paper, published on arXiv.org, in which the authors conclude that bacteria can communicate via electromagnetic signals. But the theory has been disputed by experts, who point out that for starters, SARS-CoV-2 is a virus and not a bacterium.

It's also important to note that the illness has wreaked havoc across countries with very little 5G coverage, such as Iran. 

Myth 18: You don't need to socially distance if you've already been infected

Right now, we still don't know whether a previous confirmed COVID-19 infection gives someone extended immunity. Until we do, it's really important to continue to take the same precautions as everybody else. 

Two other illnesses caused by coronaviruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), leave survivors with an immune response can last for months to years. Hopefully, that will be the case with COVID-19, but only time—and science—will tell. In the meantime, follow the CDC's recommendations: Wash your hands frequently, wear a face mask in public, and keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and others.

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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