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Coronavirus myths debunked

24 March 2020 in Health

The coronavirus continues to spread globally, infecting more than 3 million people worldwide and claiming more than 216,000 lives.

When faced with such a threat, it’s common for panic to mount - bringing with it myths and misinformation.

But don’t believe everything you hear.

Many of the myths about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, are completely unfounded.

To help you better understand what to believe and what to ignore, Prof Dr. Maureen Baker, Chief Medical Officer at Your.MD and former Chair of the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners, debunks 8 common coronavirus myths.

Myth 1: There's a vaccine to protect against COVID-19

As COVID-19 is a previously unknown disease, there's currently no vaccine to protect against it. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working to develop new vaccines, but this process can take several months.

Once a vaccine has been developed, it then needs to be tested to make sure it has no significant side effects that could cause harm.

If it’s safe to use, the vaccine will need to be produced in large quantities and distributed across the world. This all takes time, which means that it’s likely to be next year before a COVID-19 vaccine is available to the general public.

Myth 2: You can catch the new coronavirus by eating Chinese food

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t catch COVID-19 by eating Chinese food. There’s simply no evidence to support this myth. It’s an idea that may have come from early reports that the disease outbreak began in a seafood market in Wuhan, China.

However, the virus is thought to have been passed to humans via a live animal in the market rather than from food being sold.

Myth 3: It’s not safe to receive a letter or package from China

Coronaviruses survive on surfaces, such as letters or packages, for no more than a few hours. This means that it’s not possible to catch COVID-19 by handling post from China.

Myth 4: Hand dryers can kill the virus

Hot air from hand dryers or other sources doesn’t kill the virus. However, frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to protect yourselves and others.

You should wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, if they are visibly dirty, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Once your hands are clean, dry them properly using paper towels or a warm air dryer.

Myth 5: Putting bleach on your body can kill the virus

Putting bleach on your body could be dangerous and will not protect against the virus.

Myth 6: Pets can spread the virus

There’s no evidence that pets can spread the coronavirus. Media reports suggest that a dog in Hong Kong may have tested positive for the virus, but this doesn’t mean that the dog had COVID-19 - it may simply have been in contact with the virus and this was picked up by the test.

There are no reports anywhere in the world of a person catching the new coronavirus from a pet.

Even though it’s unlikely that you can catch COVID-19 from a pet, you should always wash your hands with soap and water after touching or playing with pets. This will help to protect you from bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella, that are known to pass between pets and humans.

Myth 7: The virus came from bats

It's possible for a type of coronavirus that has previously existed only in animals to be passed to a human. And it’s quite likely that this is how the new coronavirus outbreak began. However, there's currently no clear evidence to confirm the type of animal the virus may have come from.

Myth 8: Natural remedies like garlic or sesame oil can protect you from the virus

While garlic is a food that may have some effect against germs, there’s no evidence that eating garlic can protect you from the new coronavirus. Similarly, there’s no plausible reason why rubbing sesame oil on your body will stop you from catching the virus.

Remember that regular handwashing is the best way to reduce your risk of catching COVID-19.

Myth 9: Disinfectant can cure you from the coronavirus

Disinfectants are toxic to humans and consuming them could cause a lot of harm, even death.

Disinfectants are chemicals that destroy microorganisms like bacteria and viruses on surfaces. They are used to clean things like floors and hard surfaces in places such as hospitals, kitchens, and bathrooms.

If consumed by people, a disinfectant would damage cells it comes into contact with in the body, potentially causing severe tissue burns and damage to blood vessels. The effects would be even quicker if you injected it.

Under no circumstances should disinfectants be consumed by humans.

If you’d like more information on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus hub for up-to-date information on the outbreak.


If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.


References:

COVID-19 [Internet]. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2020 [cited 6 March 2020]. Available here.

Myth busters [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 6 March 2020]. Available here.

Common questions about coronavirus (COVID-19) [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 6 March 2020]. Available here.

Q & A on COVID-19 [Internet]. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2020 [cited 6 March 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 6 March 2020]. Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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