COVID-19 Fact vs. Fiction
Debunking Myths About Coronavirus
With so much information circling about coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s hard to know what to believe and what are myths that are simply untrue and have no evidence to support them. We spoke with Infectious Disease Specialist Farida Malik, MD, to clear up some of the false information that has unfortunately spread through the internet, social media and other sources. Dr. Malik shared her responses to address these myths by providing facts from expert sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and trusted medical journals.
MYTH: COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu.
FACT: COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS- CoV-2, whereas flu is caused by any of the several different types and strains of influenza viruses. While both flu and COVID-19 are spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking, there are a few significant differences that make COVID-19 more likely to spread and cause more severe illness compared to the seasonal flu. Reproduction number (R0) refers to the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual. For COVID-19, that number is 2 to 2.5, which means one person with COVID-19 goes on to infect two or two-and-a-half people as compared to an R0 of 1.3 for seasonal flu. Current estimates of the infection mortality rate for the coronavirus range from 0.4-1.5%. This means it is anywhere from 4 to 15 times higher than the seasonal flu which has a mortality rate estimated at 0.1%.
Moreover, there’s a vaccine available for seasonal flu, and although it doesn’t offer 100 percent protection, it does provide some protection by slowing the spread of influenza viruses that are circulating and can lessen the severity of illness. The flu vaccine does not provide protection against SARS- CoV 2. For COVID-19, there is no vaccine at this time.
MYTH: Only older adults are at risk of getting COVID-19.
FACT: Your risk of getting COVID-19 depends upon your exposure or close contact with people who have the virus and your adherence to precautionary measures. While healthy adults and children can get and have symptoms of COVID-19, based on what we currently know, those most at risk of getting severely ill from the virus are people who:
- Are 65 years of age and older
- Live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Have underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well-controlled, including chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, diabetes, liver disease, or chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis
- Are immunocompromised due to undergoing cancer treatment; bone marrow or organ transplantation; poorly controlled HIV or AIDS; or prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
- Are severely obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
MYTH: Only people with visible symptoms of COVID-19 can spread the virus. Since I don’t have a cough or fever, I don’t have COVID-19.
FACT: 80% of individuals infected with COVID 19 can be asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms at all, and can continue to spread the infection to their close contacts, family members and co-workers unknowingly. People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported, ranging from very mild to severe. The most commonly reported symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
This list is not all inclusive, however. Other less common symptoms have been reported, including gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
MYTH: Drinking or injecting bleach, alcohol or other disinfectants, or spraying these on your body will kill the virus that causes COVID-19 or help protect against it.
FACT: Not only is this completely false but it is life-threateningly dangerous. Please do not attempt any of this.
MYTH: Ultraviolet light inserted into the body could help kill the virus that causes COVID-19 and speed recovery.
FACT: While UV light is known to kill viruses contained in droplets in the air, there is no way it could be introduced into the human body to target cells infected with COVID-19. Please be aware that any such attempts on the skin may cause severe burns.
MYTH: Hand dryers kill coronavirus.
FACT: There is no scientific evidence to support this. Your best protection is by following these simple steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people
MYTH: My COVID-19 test came back negative so I do not have the infection and am not contagious.
FACT: The COVID-19 testing unfortunately carries a considerable rate of false negatives (around 30%). This means you may be infected but the test was unable to detect the virus in your body. Some factors may include improper sample collection techniques, low viral load or faulty tests. During this stage you may continue to infect others around you unknowingly. Please contact your doctor as you may need retesting based on your risk profile and symptomatology.
MYTH: Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine are effective treatments for COVID 19.
FACT: Unfortunately, the initial excitement for these drugs to potentially treat COVID-19 was not based on hard scientific evidence. These drugs have potentially serious side effects which may outweigh any yet to be seen clinical benefits. Better structured clinical studies are underway.
MYTH: A vaccine to cure COVID-19 is available.
FACT: There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine yet. There are a number of vaccines currently undergoing animal and human trials. It will be a few months before we know if any of them are successful and months after that before one becomes available for us to use.
MYTH: If you have had and recovered from COVID-19 it is not possible to get the virus again.
FACT: According to WHO there is currently no evidence to suggest that patients who have recovered from the infection and have antibodies are protected from a second infection. The true risk of this is not yet known.