There’s so much inaccurate information floating around out there that the World Health Organization is calling it an “infodemic.” In perhaps the clearest sign of the times, WHO has joined TikTok to help set the record straight.
The myths exist both on the fringes of the internet and in more mainstream outlets. And while social media platforms are now taking steps to elevate credible information and remove content that could confuse people, they’re fighting an uphill battle. Meanwhile, censorship and government mistrust in some countries have created a petri dish for misinformation to spread.
Here’s the truth about the new coronavirus.
Myth: Coronavirus is man-made
Reality: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
As the coronavirus outbreak turned into a full-fledged public health crisis, a fringe theory about the virus’ origins started to take hold on the internet: that the virus didn’t come from nature, but had instead been created in a lab.
The rumors, which originated from unverified social media accounts and weren’t supported by any credible evidence, got more elaborate as time went on.
One version popularized outside China suggested that a Chinese lab had been secretly working on a bioweapon that got leaked. Another that gained traction among nationalistic parts of the Chinese social mediasphere suggested that the virus originated in the US — and that many Americans thought to have died of the flu this season were actually killed by COVID-19.
Scientists in both China and the West have widely dismissed these theories, though that hasn’t stopped them from spreading. Experts are still trying to figure out the exact source of the virus, but research indicates that it likely originated in bats and was transmitted to an intermediate host before jumping to people — just like its cousin that caused the 2003 SARS epidemic.
Myth: Home remedies can cure or prevent the virus
Reality: Garlic is good for you. So is water. And vitamin C. But despite what some corners of social media would have you believe, there’s no evidence from the outbreak that eating garlic, sipping water every 15 minutes or taking vitamin C will protect people from the new coronavirus. Same goes for using essential oils, colloidal silver and steroids.
Some posts have suggested that putting sesame oil on your body or spraying yourself with alcohol or chlorine will kill the virus. That’s also false.
There are some chemical disinfectants, including bleach, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and chloroform, that may kill the virus on surfaces. But if the virus is already in your body, putting those substances on your skin or under your nose won’t kill it — and can actually be dangerous.
And this should go without saying, but please, please, do not ingest chemical disinfectants either.
There’s currently no cure for the novel coronavirus. And while research is underway, it could be more than a year before a vaccine becomes available.
The best way to protect yourself right now is to do what you would every cold and flu season. Stay at least three feet away from anyone who may be infected. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue that you throw away immediately after. And disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.
If you have symptoms that feel worse than a common cold, seek treatment early.
Myth: Black people don’t get coronavirus
Reality: Anyone can get coronavirus.
Any person who comes into close contact with someone who is infected is at risk for contracting the virus, according to the CDC.
Or take it from Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an African-American family medicine physician and on-air health expert. She recently debunked the myth that black people can’t get coronavirus in The Philadelphia Inquirer and in a video on her Facebook page.
So far, the virus hasn’t spread in Africa as quickly as it has on some other continents. But numbers there are rising fast.
Ten African nations have reported nearly 100 coronavirus cases. Egypt has been the worst hit with at least 59 cases — more than half of all confirmed cases on the continent.
Myth: Everyone should wear a mask
Reality: This one’s a little trickier, and varies from country to country.
The CDC has said that Americans who are well do not need to wear face masks, while US Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that masks could actually increase the risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly.
Given the shortage of masks in the US and the resulting price-gouging, US officials have warned the public not to hoard masks, particularly N95 respirators, so that they remain available to those most at risk. Those who should wear masks are people who already have the new coronavirus and could potentially infect others, those caring for an infected patient in close settings and health care workers.
Outside the US, the guidance around face masks is different.
Authorities across Asia, which has now been dealing with the virus for months, have urged that people wear surgical masks particularly on public transportation or in other crowded places to prevent transmission of the virus.
However, Hong Kong’s health authority does say that N95 respirators are generally not recommended for use by the general public, given that wearing and removing it properly requires special training.
To determine whether you need to wear a mask or not, it’s best to check the latest guidance issues by your country’s health authorities.
Myth: Heat can kill the virus
Reality: Hand dryers can’t kill the virus, according to WHO. The organization also says that UV lamps shouldn’t be used to sterilize hands or other areas of the body because the radiation can irritate skin.
President Donald Trump has previously suggested that heat kills the virus and that because of this, the current outbreak will have dissipated by spring.
But public health experts say there’s no way to know this.
Myth: The virus can be transmitted through mail
Reality: Feel free to check your mail.
Getting a letter or package from China won’t put you at risk of contracting the virus, according to WHO.
Researchers are still studying exactly how the new coronavirus infects people, but judging by previous coronaviruses, it doesn’t stay alive for long on objects and surfaces.
Myth: Kids can’t get the coronavirus
Reality: Anyone of any age can get the new coronavirus, though older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions appear to be more vulnerable to serious infections.
While most confirmed cases of the virus have occurred in adults, children have been infected too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Myth: People who get the coronavirus will die
Reality: The death rate for the virus is around 2%, and officials say that number is expected to fall.
People who get coronavirus will typically get sick with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache and a fever that can last for a couple of days. Most of the time, symptoms will go away on their own.
The disease can be fatal but those cases are rarer.
For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young, there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis.
Given that thousands of people have been infected and authorities are still struggling to contain the virus though, even a 2% mortality rate is worrisome.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect the varied guidance around face masks in countries outside the US.