Updated: Mar 24
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters
Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?
No. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth). Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.
Can regularly rinsing your nose with saline help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
No. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus.
There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.
Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.
Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?
People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.
Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new coronavirus?
No. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.
The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts.
Although these vaccines are not effective against 2019-nCoV, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.
Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus?
To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.
COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates
From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
Cold weather and snow CANNOT kill the new coronavirus.
There is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill the new coronavirus or other diseases. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the external temperature or weather. The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water.
Taking a hot bath does not prevent the new coronavirus disease
Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that coud occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
The new coronavirus CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites.
To date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Also, avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?
No. Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.
Can an ultraviolet disinfection lamp kill the new coronavirus?
UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can cause skin irritation.
How effective are thermal scanners in detecting people infected with the new coronavirus?
Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus.
However, they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever. This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever.
Coronavirus COVID19: Myth vs. Fact
TRUE or FALSE? A vaccine to cure COVID-19 is available.
True: There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus right now. Scientists have already begun working on one, but developing a vaccine that is safe and effective in human beings will take many months.
TRUE or FALSE? You can protect yourself from COVID-19 by swallowing or gargling with bleach, taking acetic acid or steroids, or using essential oils, salt water, ethanol or other substances.
True: None of these recommendations protects you from getting COVID-19, and some of these practices may be dangerous. The best ways to protect yourself from this coronavirus (and other viruses) include:
Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and hot water.
Avoiding close contact with people who are sick, sneezing or coughing.
In addition, you can avoid spreading your own germs by coughing into the crook of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.
TRUE or FALSE? The new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.
True: Viruses can change over time. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. This is likely how the new coronavirus came to be.
TRUE or FALSE? Ordering or buying products shipped from China will make a person sick.
True: Researchers are studying the new coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. As of this writing, scientists note that most viruses like this one do not stay alive for very long on surfaces, so it is not likely you would get COVID-19 from a package that was in transit for days or weeks. The illness is most likely transmitted by droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough, but more information is emerging daily.
TRUE or FALSE? A face mask will protect you from COVID-19.
True: Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators (such as the N95) can protect health care workers as they care for infected patients.
For the general public without respiratory illness, wearing lightweight disposable surgical masks is not recommended. Because they don’t fit tightly, they may allow tiny infected droplets to get into the nose, mouth or eyes. Also, people with the virus on their hands who touch their face under a mask might become infected.
People with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others. Bear in mind that stocking up on masks makes fewer available for sick patients and health care workers who need them.
13 Coronavirus myths busted by science
Myth: Face masks can protect you from the virus
Standard surgical masks cannot protect you from SARS-CoV-2, as they are not designed to block out viral particles and do not lay flush to the face, Live Science previously reported. That said, surgical masks can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus further by blocking any respiratory droplets that could be expelled from their mouths.
Within health care facilities, special respirators called "N95 respirators" have been shown to greatly reduce the spread of the virus among medical staff. People require training to properly fit N95 respirators around their noses, cheeks and chins to ensure that no air can sneak around the edges of the mask; and wearers must also learn to check the equipment for damage after each use.
Myth: You're waaaay less likely to get this than the flu
Not necessarily. To estimate how easily a virus spreads, scientists calculate its "basic reproduction number," or R0 (pronounced R-nought). R0 predicts the number of people who can catch a given bug from a single infected person, Live Science previously reported. Currently, the R0 for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, is estimated at about 2.2, meaning a single infected person will infect about 2.2 others, on average. By comparison, the flu has an R0 of 1.3.
Perhaps, most importantly, while no vaccine exists to prevent COVID-19, the seasonal flu vaccine prevents influenza relatively well, even when its formulation doesn't perfectly match the circulating viral strains.
Myth: The virus is just a mutated form of the common cold
No, it's not. Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that includes many different diseases. SARS-CoV-2 does share similarities with other coronaviruses, four of which can cause the common cold. All five viruses have spiky projections on their surfaces and utilize so-called spike proteins to infect host cells. However, the four cold coronaviruses — named 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 — all utilize humans as their primary hosts. SARS-CoV-2 shares about 90% of its genetic material with coronaviruses that infect bats, which suggests that the virus originated in bats and later hopped to humans.
Evidence suggests that the virus passed through an intermediate animal before infecting humans. Similarly, the SARS virus jumped from bats to civets (small, nocturnal mammals) on its way into people, whereas MERS infected camels before spreading to humans.
Myth: The virus was probably made in a lab
No evidence suggests that the virus is man-made. SARS-CoV-2 closely resembles two other coronaviruses that have triggered outbreaks in recent decades, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and all three viruses seem to have originated in bats. In short, the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 fall in line with what we know about other naturally occurring coronaviruses that made the jump from animals to people.
Myth: Getting COVID-19 is a death sentence
That's not true. About 81% of people who are infected with the coronavirus have mild cases of COVID-19, according to a study published Feb. 18 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About 13.8% report severe illness, meaning they have shortness of breath, or require supplemental oxygen, and about 4.7% are critical, meaning they face respiratory failure, multi-organ failure or septic shock. The data thus far suggests that only around 2.3% of people infected with COVID-19 die from the virus. People who are older or have underlying health conditions seem to be most at risk of having severe disease or complications. While there's no need to panic, people should take steps to prepare and protect themselves and others from the new coronavirus.
Myth: Pets can spread the new coronavirus
Probably not to humans. One dog in China contracted a "low-level infection" from its owner, who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, meaning dogs may be vulnerable to picking up the virus from people, according to The South China Morning Post. The infected Pomeranian has not fallen ill or shown symptoms of disease, and no evidence suggests that the animal could infect humans.
Several dogs and cats tested positive for a similar virus, SARS-CoV, during an outbreak in 2003, animal health expert Vanessa Barrs of City University told the Post. "Previous experience with SARS suggests that cats and dogs will not become sick or transmit the virus to humans," she said. "Importantly, there was no evidence of viral transmission from pet dogs or cats to humans."
Just in case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with COVID-19 have someone else walk and care for their companion animals while they are sick. And people should always wash their hands after snuggling with animals anyway, as companion pets can spread other diseases to people, according to the CDC.
Myth: Lockdowns or school closures won't happen in the US
There's no guarantee, but school closures are a common tool that public health officials use to slow or halt the spread of contagious diseases. For instance, during the swine flu pandemic of 2009, 1,300 schools in the U.S. closed to reduce the spread of the disease, according to a 2017 study of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. At the time, CDC guidance recommended that schools close for between 7 and 14 days, according to the study.
While the coronavirus is a different disease, with a different incubation period, transmissibility and symptom severity, it's likely that at least some school closures will occur. If we later learn that children are not the primary vectors for disease, that strategy may change, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, previously told Live Science. Either way, you should prepare for the possibility of school closures and figure out backup care if needed.
Lockdowns, quarantines and isolation are also a possibility. Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), the federal government is allowed to take such actions to quell the spread of disease from either outside the country or between states. State and local governments may also have similar authority.
Myth: Kids can't catch the coronavirus
Children can definitely catch COVID-19, though initial reports suggested fewer cases in children compared with adults. For example, a Chinese study from Hubei province released in February found that of more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19, about only 2.2% involved children under age 19.
However, more recent studies suggest children are as likely as adults to become infected. In a study reported March 5, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,500 people in Shenzhen, and found that children potentially exposed to the virus were just as likely to become infected as adults were, according to Nature News. Regardless of age, about 7% to 8% of contacts of COVID-19 cases later tested positive for the virus.
Still, when children become infected, they seem less likely to develop severe disease, Live Science previously reported.
Myth: If you have coronavirus, "you'll know"
No, you won't. COVID-19 causes a wide range of symptoms, many of which appear in other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and the common cold. Specifically, common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and rarer symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a runny nose. In severe cases, the disease can progress into a serious pneumonia-like illness — but early on, infected people may show no symptoms at all.
U.S. health officials have now advised the American public to prepare for an epidemic, meaning those who have not traveled to affected countries or made contact with people who recently traveled may begin catching the virus. As the outbreak progresses in the U.S., state and local health departments should provide updates about when and where the virus has spread. If you live in an affected region and begin experiencing high fever, weakness, lethargy or shortness of breath, or or have underlying conditions and milder symptoms of the disease, you should seek medical attention at the nearest hospital, experts told Live Science.
From there, you may be tested for the virus, though as of yet, the CDC has not made the available diagnostic exam widely available.
Myth: The coronavirus is less deadly than the flu
So far, it appears the coronavirus is more deadly than the flu. However, there's still a lot of uncertainty around the mortality rate of the virus. The annual flu typically has a mortality rate of around 0.1% in the U.S. So far, there's a 0.05% mortality rate among those who caught the flu virus in the U.S. this year, according to the CDC.
In comparison, recent data suggests that COVID-19 has a mortality rate more than 20 times higher, of around 2.3%, according to a study published Feb. 18 by the China CDC Weekly. The death rate varied by different factors such as location and an individual's age, according to a previous Live Science report.
But these numbers are continuously evolving and may not represent the actual mortality rate. It's not clear if the case counts in China are accurately documented, especially since they shifted the way they defined cases midway through, according to STAT News. There could be many mild or asymptomatic cases that weren't counted in the total sample size, they wrote.
Vitamin C supplements will stop you from catching COVID-19
Researchers have yet to find any evidence that vitamin C supplements can render people immune to COVID-19 infection. In fact, for most people, taking extra vitamin C does not even ward off the common cold, though it may shorten the duration of a cold if you catch one.
That said, vitamin C serves essential roles in the human body and supports normal immune function. As an antioxidant, the vitamin neutralizes charged particles called free radicals that can damage tissues in the body. It also helps the body synthesize hormones, build collagen and seal off vulnerable connective tissue against pathogens.
So yes, vitamin C should absolutely be included in your daily diet if you want to maintain a healthy immune system. But megadosing on supplements is unlikely to lower your risk of catching COVID-19, and may at most give you a "modest" advantage against the virus, should you become infected. No evidence suggests that other so-called immune-boosting supplements — such as zinc, green tea or echinacea — help to prevent COVID-19, either.
Be wary of products being advertised as treatments or cures for the new coronavirus. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have already issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent products that promise to cure, treat or prevent the viral infection.
Myth: It's not safe to receive a package from China
It is safe to receive letters or packages from China, according to the World Health Organization. Previous research has found that coronaviruses don't survive long on objects such as letters and packages. Based on what we know about similar coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, experts think this new coronavirus likely survives poorly on surfaces.
A past study found that these related coronaviruses can stay on surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic for as long as nine days, according to a study published Feb. 6 in The Journal of Hospital Infection. But the surfaces present in packaging are not ideal for the virus to survive.
For a virus to remain viable, it needs a combination of specific environmental conditions such as temperature, lack of UV exposure and humidity — a combination you won't get in shipping packages, according to Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who spoke with Live Science's sister site Tom's Hardware.
And so "there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," according to the CDC. "Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods, and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods." Rather, the coronavirus is thought to be most commonly spread through respiratory droplets.
Myth: You can get the coronavirus if you eat at Chinese restaurants in the US
No, you can't. By that logic, you'd also have to avoid Italian, Korean, Japanese and Iranian restaurants, given that those countries have also been facing an outbreak. The new coronavirus doesn't just affect people of Chinese descent.