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9 coronavirus myths busted by science

Scientists

Misinformation about novel coronavirus COVID-19 is spreading faster than the virus is. Healthy Food Guide editor Jenny de Montalk looks at the science to bust nine of the most common coronavirus myths.

Myth: Coronavirus is less dangerous than influenza

Reality: On average, the seasonal flu kills around 0.1 per cent of people it infects. In a lot of cases, people who contract COVID-19 will experience symptoms no worse than a seasonal flu but, for some, the virus can be fatal.

At this early stage, the mortality rate from the novel coronavirus is around 1 per cent and, as there doesn’t seem to be a huge number of asymptomatic infected people, this number is unlikely to drop much, according to reports from World Health Organization (WHO) public health expert Bruce Aylward.

Right now, the coronavirus appears to be more contagious than the flu but, as outbreak control systems improve, the rate of the virus spreading will likely drop.

The largest study conducted on COVID-19, so far, looked at over 72,000 patient records in China.

Out of the total number of confirmed cases, around 80 per cent had mild symptoms, almost 14 per cent had severe symptoms and just under 5 per cent were critical.

In summary, early data suggest COVID-19 is more contagious and has a slightly higher death rate than the seasonal flu.

However, because this strain of coronavirus is new, those rates may change as further data is gathered.

Myth: COVID-19 only kills elderly people

Reality: The death rate from the COVID-19 in older people (60+) is significantly higher than in younger people, but people with compromised immune systems are also at higher risk.

The research from China shows people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory disease all had a higher fatality rate than those without a pre-existing condition.

The study also shows death rates among men have exceeded those in women.

The good news is, of over 99,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, data show 94 per cent have recovered.

Myth: COVID-19 is mutating into a more dangerous strain

Reality: There are two strains of COVID-19 identified as responsible for current outbreaks around the world: S-type and L-type. The L-type is thought to be derived from the S-type and is behind more cases.

This is thought to be because the S-type was the first strain that jumped from its animal host to a human then, to make the virus more easily transmitted from human to human, it mutated to become the L-type.

But, infectious disease researcher Kristian Andersen told the Nature journal, outbreak pathogens don’t tend to mutate to become more virulent or cause more serious disease.

Dr Andersen says most mutations actually harm the virus or have no effect.

Myth: You need to wear a mask to avoid coronavirus

Reality: Masks may provide some protection against COVID-19 but are not necessary if you are not in close contact with a person who is infected.

However, if you have the virus, wearing one is a good idea because it may reduce your chances of spreading it to others.

There are shortages of masks due to people buying and hoarding them, so people who actually need them, such as healthcare workers, people caring for infected people and those who have COVID-19, are faced with less supply.

If you are wearing a mask, it’s vital to follow guidelines for putting it on and taking it off, to prevent increasing your chances of spreading the virus.

Myth: Flu and pneumonia vaccines protect against coronavirus

Reality: Vaccines against pneumonia and influenza do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.

According to the World Health Organization, researchers are working on developing a vaccine that will work against COVID-19 but, because the coronavirus strain is so new, there is not yet one available.

Myth: Antibiotics kill coronavirus

Reality: Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and because COVID-19 is a virus they will not help.

The WHO says antibiotics may be used if a bacterial co-infection occurs in someone with novel coronavirus.

Myth: Cold weather kills the coronavirus

Reality: The human body’s temperature remains the same (around 36.5°C to 37°C) despite the weather, so it’s unlikely weather changes will kill COVID-19.

Myth: Mail or products from China can spread the coronavirus

Reality: Depending on the surface it’s on, the coronavirus can stay alive for a few hours or up to several days but, according to the WHO, it’s unlikely it would survive the shipping process that will expose it to different conditions and temperatures.

If you are worried, use disinfectant to clean any surfaces you think might be contaminated, wash your hands with soap and water and dry thoroughly after.

Myth: The coronavirus is spread by mosquitos

Reality: There is no evidence, at this stage, to suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by mosquitoes.

The coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes and through saliva or a runny nose.

Myth: Pets can spread coronavirus

Reality: While the COVID-19 virus seems to have emerged from an animal source there is no reason to think that pets might be a source of infection, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To date, the CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 and there is no evidence of companion animals spreading the virus.

The WHO recommends washing your hands after touching pets, regardless, because they can carry bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.

First published: Mar 2020

Article sources and references

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