While you're at it, please stop sharing it on social media, too.

By Leah Groth
March 18, 2020
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Now more than ever it's crucial to be careful of what you read and share on social media regarding the coronavirus—and a recent post that made rounds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter shows exactly why.

The "simple self-check" that began circulating amid the coronavirus outbreak was part of a post claiming to be "info from Stanford University." The post, which appears to have originated on Facebook, went on to tell readers to "take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds." Readers were told that if they could do this successfully ("without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness, or tightness,") then it meant their lungs were free of "fibrosis," or lung scarring, and ultimately free of infection.

Of course, that wasn't the only claim in the post—unnamed "doctors" throughout the post referenced other "tips" to prevent coronavirus, including keeping your mouth and throat moist so the virus doesn't "enter your windpipe," washing the virus down to your stomach where "your stomach acid will kill all the virus," and claiming that a runny nose is not a symptom of coronavirus.

But here's the thing: While the post says it's from Stanford University, it's not—according to an interview with CNN, Stanford Health Care spokeswoman Lisa Kim denies the claims that the post originated from them, adding that the post is "dangerous" and "contains inaccurate information."

In fact, there's absolutely "nothing correct" about that viral post, Adam Ratner, MD, the Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at NYU Langone, tells Health—and even he has had the post forwarded to him several times over the past week.

“The 10 seconds thing is not true,” says Dr. Ratner. That's because coronavirus can present differently in people, including in the severity of symptoms and specific symptoms in general. "Some people are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and would easily be able to hold their breath for 10 seconds," Nate Favini, MD, medical lead at Forward, a primary care practice currently conducting COVID-19 swab testing and treatment of patients, tells Health. "So, not being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds is not an accurate test for the coronavirus," he says.

"The only valid way to know if you have coronavirus is to get a medical test," adds Jaimie Meyer, MD, an infectious disease doctor at Yale Medicine. (FYI: This involves a swab of your nose and throat that looks for the the coronavirus. While testing availability depends on where you live, most places it is only available with a prescription from your doctor.)

Of course, the other claims in the post aren't factual either: For one, staying hydrated is good, but a moist mouth and throat won't give you any coronavirus protection—nor will drinking it wash the virus down into your stomach, as the post claims. "While drinking water and staying hydrated is good because it helps your body stay in the best shape for fighting illness, there is no scientific evidence indicating that drinking water will protect you from the virus," says Dr. Favini. Even more: "We believe the virus can pass from your nasopharynx into your bloodstream, bypassing areas that water would enter through," he adds. (The best and so far only way to truly protect yourself from COVID-19 is to not be exposed to the virus, which includes practicing social distancing, washing your hands frequently, and sanitizing highly-touched surfaces.)

The claim that a runny nose is not indicative of COVID-19 is also untrue, says Dr. Meyer. "While some people with runny noses just have a cold, others may have influenza, and others have coronavirus," she says, adding that people with coronavirus can present with a wide range of symptoms. "Some have reported runny nose as one of the symptoms of coronavirus," she says. "If you have a runny nose along with fever and cough, you should self-isolate and call your healthcare provider."

And probably the most worrisome statement in the post hinges on the claim that, once symptoms arise from coronavirus, it's already possibly fatal. "By the time you have a fever and/or cough and go to the hospital, the lung is usually 50% fibrosis," per the viral post. But once again, that's not the case, according to Dr. Meyer. “We are learning more every day about how people’s clinical course with this infections varies, she explains. “Some people hospitalized with coronavirus infection have moderate disease, while others have more severe disease and may require supplemental oxygen including, at times, ventilation. The only way to really know about what is happening in the lung tissue is from a lung biopsy, which we do very rarely." Ultimately, as far as fibrosis or lung scarring goes, "there is no sign from imaging studies that people with moderate or severe coronavirus infection with pneumonia have fibrosis, though they most certainly have inflammation in the lung.” 

Given the severity of the pandemic and all of the unknowns surrounding the highly contagious virus, it is completely understandable that people are desperate for information. But that's what makes it more crucial than ever to avoid spreading misinformation, primarily due to the fact that it could result in major international health repercussions. “The clearest and most objective information about coronavirus is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” reminds Meyer, along with the World Health Organization and other reputable sources. 

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 CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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