Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) has, much to everyone's distress, taken the world by storm — in the truest sense of the phrase. Twenty, or so, months on since the news first erupted around the world about this new virus, myths and facts about it have become an all too common part of our daily life.
With so much information floating around, including those annoying popups on social media, how is anyone to filter between truth and fiction? After all, the vast majority of commentators, including, admittedly, ourselves, are not experts in virology and/or epidemiology. The latter, in case you are unaware, is the study of the complex relationships among hosts and infectious agents (like viruses), along with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and factors relating to health.
However, there are some common myths that can be confidentially debunked without the need to spend years of study and research in either of these inter-related fields. Here we'll address a few of the common examples.
What are some myths about the Coronavirus (SAR-COV2)?
So, without further ado, here are some persistent myths about the SARS-CoV-2 doing the rounds. Sadly, misinformation at times like this is, well, chronic.
This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. Hot and humid climates do not increase the transmission of COVID-19
Despite some claims to the contrary, COVID-19's transmission is not affected by climate or weather. According to the World Health Organisation, viral transmission has been seen in all climes and parts of the world so far.
Prime examples are Mediterranean countries famed for their sunny climates like Turkey, Spain, Greece, Italy, etc.
Since the virus is primarily transmitted person-to-person, the best thing you can do is practice social distancing and frequent cleaning of your hands.
2. Likewise, neither cold weather nor snow stops the virus
For exactly the same reason as above, cold weather and snow have little to no impact on SARS-CoV-2 transmission. As the virus requires human beings to propagate, and we are endothermic, your body stays at between 97.7 and 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (36.5 and 37 degrees Celsius) regardless of the external temperature.
For places with very cold climates, you are less likely to venture outdoors anyway. But, this may increase your chances of closer contact with other members of your community as you will likely spend more time indoors around other people.
3. Packages from China can infect you
Another common myth about the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is that packages imported from China can expose you to COVID-19. While the virus can survive on surfaces for several days, you are still safe to receive packages from China.
The same can be said for any package exported from any other country around the world.
In fact, the World Health Organization has studied this exact issue from mail received from China and has concluded that it poses no risk whatsoever. In fact, international shipments are usually subject to very strict biohazard controls prior to release from shippers.
4. Garlic and vitamin C can help protect from the virus
While it might certainly put off the odd passing vampire, eating garlic will not keep things like a virus at bay. There is currently no evidence that eating garlic offers any benefits against the virus, according to the WHO.
But, don't let that put you off eating it — it has many other great health benefits!
Since we are on the subject of diet, the same is true for vitamin C supplements. While they also offer some great health benefits in general, they will not decrease your likelihood of contracting the virus.
Interesting fact though about vitamin C — it is actually very difficult to overdose on it as it is water soluble and as such, can be expelled by urination. However, please don't take that as a challenge!
5. The Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will mutate and become airborne
2/10: Can Coronavirus mutate and become airborne?— Faheem Younus, MD (@FaheemYounus) March 18, 2020
No. Even when viruses mutate, their mode of transmission does not change. Influenza virus has mutated many times, but it remains a droplet infection.
According to many medical professionals, this is a myth. While viruses can, and often will, mutate, their mode of transmission tends not to change. However, this also has to do with the definition of "airborne". Generally, when epidemiologists say "airborne" they are referring to transmission by free-floating aerosols. Many viruses, including influenza, can be transmitted by both droplets and aerosols.
It is important to note that there is a big difference between being airborne and transmission via droplets. The former technically would mean that the object in question (the virus) is actually supported and suspended in an air column by aerodynamic forces.
Think of something like asbestos fibers. The reason these have such a high potential for exposure is that an asbestos fiber can remain in the air column for days.
Since the virus can only be released into the air via sneezing, coughing, or generally respiring, its range is limited by the capacity of air to carry virus-bearing droplets.
Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, while it has also been shown to mutate several times (and will continue to do so), to date, its mode of transmission remains the same. Under certain conditions, such as in intensive care units, it may be possible for COVID-19 to be transmitted in aerosol form, but there is no evidence that the virus is normally transmitted this way.
6. Apparently some people think the virus is spread by mosquitoes and dogs
You've probably already worked out that this is a myth, but, sadly, there are some people spreading this ridiculous claim. Since the virus is a respiratory disease, it spreads primarily through droplets created when infected individuals cough or sneeze.
Mosquitoes are off the hook for this one — but they are still little flying devils incarnate.
The same also goes for your pets, like dogs. So don't fret about hugging, petting, or generally enjoying your pet's company during lock-down. However, there is growing evidence that you could potentially expose your pet to COVID-19.
Please note, however, that the chances of this occurring are very slim.
7. Since the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) thrives on cold sinuses, you should blow-dry your nose with warm air!
8/10: I’ve heard that coronavirus thrives in cold sinuses. So if you blow-dry your nose with warm air, it kills the virus. True?— Faheem Younus, MD (@FaheemYounus) March 18, 2020
False! Please don’t. Our nose carries bacteria, as part of normal flora. Those bacteria may get confused:)
If this sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. This is most definitely a myth — and please do not try it at home.
Not only will it have absolutely no effect, but you could risk inadvertently damaging the delicate mucous membranes of your nose.
8. UV lamps are just perfect for disinfecting your hands
While it is certainly true that certain types of UV light do kill many pathogens, it is not advisable to use UV lamps to sterilize your hands or other parts of your skin for an extended period of time.
Just like sunbathing without suncream, this can, and usually will cause skin irritation. You also run the risk of damaging your skin both short-term and long-term.
9. Regular rinsing of your nose prevents infection from the virus
To date, there is absolutely no evidence that this practice will actually protect you from getting infected — after all, it only really affects the nasal cavity. However, there is evidence that irrigating your nose with a "neti pot" filled with a sterile saline solution can speed up recovery from hay fever or the common cold.
A word of warning, however: There are some risks to this practice, so be sure to check with a health professional before starting this practice. It is also not the most flattering activity to do in public, so do it in private. Trust us on this.
10. The virus only affects older people, right?
This is most definitely a myth. The virus has been shown to infect people of all ages, even infants.
But, older people, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease) do appear to be hit more severely by SARS-CoV-2.
The World Health Organization has advised that people of all ages take the appropriate preventative actions to reduce the risk of infection to a minimum.
11. DIY or surgical masks will stop me from getting infected
Funnily enough, masks that you've made yourself are highly unlikely to be effective. Some examples have included full-face masks made from old water bottles to plastic bags.
Things like plastic bags also have the added problem of being a potential suffocation risk.
Most of these are highly unlikely to prevent airflow around and through the mask as you breathe and, as such, they are practically useless. Commercially produced masks are subject to strict quality control practices and must meet very specific specifications.
Prior to COVID-19 becoming big news, there has been much debate among medical professionals about the efficacy of some types of surgical attire, such as skullcaps. Needless to say, the general consensus was split on the issue. While masks and gloves have been shown to be effective at preventing contamination from bodily fluids (such as blood splashes during surgery), there is some debate as to how effective they are against airborne or droplet contamination.
Another major problem with fabric or paper-based masks is the tendency to fidget, or constantly adjust them. Needless to say, if you are not constantly disinfecting your hands, any benefit conferred by them is negated.
The takeaway seems to be that the most commonly worn masks, so-called surgical marks, effectively trap large droplets of exhaled droplets, and are, therefore, very effective in stopping the main infection pathway of COVID-19 — i.e. spraying the area around you with virus-laden droplets. Much like a fragmentation grenade.
If this is the case, the best thing you could do is get yourself a half-face or, ideally, a positive-pressure full-face mask with special FFP3 filters akin to those worn by asbestos workers. But, of course, these are not cheap and are not the most comfortable things to wear.
Therefore, in the absence of specialist masks as detailed above, studies have shown that the next best thing, and the most comfortable solution, is to wear an N-95 mask, not a "regular" surgical mask.
However, it is important to note that a solid impermeable surface, like a face shield made from a plastic bottle, will prevent you from physically being "hit" by exhaled droplets. In fact, face shields have been shown to be very effective for infection control with regard to droplet-borne pathogen exposure. But, wearing face shields without a mask, may provide negligible benefit in the long run.
Ultimately, it's your face and your body, so we trust you to make a reasoned judgment on this issue. But. be assured that covering your face, nose, and mouth with something, rather than no face barrier of any kind, obviously confers some kind of protection.
12. The mRNA injections are not actually vaccines
With regards to them not being "true" vaccines, this is technically true since original definitions of the term tended to reference the fact they are composed of weakened or dead pathogens. Since biotechnology has advanced over time, the definition has now been updated to include "a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases".
The main point is that mRNA vaccines provide the same immunological response in your body as other, more traditional vaccines.
While relatively new, though not that new, this type of vaccine exposes the cells of your body to an alien, but thankfully harmless, piece of biological material called a "spike protein". This protein is found on the surface of viruses, like COVID-19, and is akin to a business card, of sorts.
Your immune system recognizes that this protein structure does not belong in your body and responds via pumping out things called antibodies to get rid of it. This is, in part, exactly what happens naturally when you get an infection, including other viruses like influenza.
In fact, vaccines of all kinds effectively "hack" your natural ability to fight infection via just this kind of immune response. As an aside, this is a very interesting process, and we recommend you watch some interesting introductory videos on just this subject.
Trust us, it is well worth your time.
13. If I get COVID-19 I need antibiotics, right?
You might be surprised to learn that this is, indeed, a myth. Antibiotics are designed to combat bacterial infections, not viruses. They will be completely ineffective against COVID-19.
But, if you do become infected by 2019-nCoV, it is quite likely you will also be prescribed antibacterials to prevent co-infections from pathogenic bacteria.
14. Any hand sanitizer will do, won't it?
Not all hand sanitizers are made equal. While very handy (pun intended) when traveling or commuting, they are not 100% effective. In fact, most are less than 60% alcohol content, or worse, none.
The PHE and WHO recommend that for hand sanitizers to be effective they must contain at least 60% alcohol or above to be truly effective.
15. Vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the Coronavirus
To date, there are various vaccines that have been developed to combat COVID-19 and its variants. While each vaccine has varying efficacy against the virus, these have been developed specifically to handle the virus.
Vaccines are, generally speaking, pathogen-specific, and will have little to no effect on different pathogens.
For example, vaccines designed for Pneumococcus or Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) will not immunize you against COVID-19. This should come as no surprise, as every living thing, albeit closely related, will have a very different genetic code. This is no different for micro-organisms like bacteria or viruses as it is for large animals like humans or chimpanzees.
While other vaccines won't help, you really should get them to protect you against the myriad other nasty diseases out there.
And with that, we are done for today.
Please note we have only covered a few of the many common myths surrounding the COVID-19 virus in this piece, and it is not possible to address all of them. We do hope that this article has provided some clarity on the issue and will persevere to update it as new information is provided by official sources like the CDC or WHO.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to take charge of your own health and safety, so please keep abreast of the latest information available. Also, please note, that social interaction should not be avoided at all costs. It is vitally important for the mental health of your, and your close family and friends, that you continue to socialize as much as possible — albeit with the necessary measures.
COVID-19 is something to concern yourself with, but not at the expense of living your life to its fullest. Our species has overcome more serious pandemics than this, and will certainly survive this one.
** This article has been updated in light of recent developments. Major corrections are as follows: -
Entry 5: This has been updated to expand on the meaning of an object, like a virus, being airborne. The main thrust of the entry has not changed.
Entry 11: This entry has been subject to significant amendment in light of the use of masks and face shields with regard to infection control.
Entry 12: We originally stated that the CDC did not recommend that testing was necessary for someone who had been in close proximity to someone who had themselves been exposed to COVID-19. The CDC guidance has since been updated with regards to this matter and entry 12 has since been replaced.
Entry 15: Our original article was published prior to the development of COVID-19 vaccines. We had, therefore, previously stated that no vaccines currently exist for the virus. Vaccines have since been developed and the entry has been amended accordingly.
All other entries and wrapping text: These have been subject to minor amendments and clarifications, but the main thrust of the content has not been materially changed.