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Updated on April 24, 2020

COVID-19 - caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 - first showed up in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and since then has spread to most parts of the world. However, amidst all the news and information about the disease, the myths surrounding COVID-19 are spreading almost as quickly as the pandemic itself.

Hold your breath as a self-test for lung fibrosis, drink a lot of water to flush out the coronavirus and the virus may just die once the weather turns warm are just some of the most common myths that most of us may have heard already. And the list keeps growing more bizarre. 

Since most of these myths are represented as facts and attributed to scientific institutions, researchers or doctors, it can become hard to separate fact from fiction and know what to believe. This article dissects and debunks the common myths about COVID-19.

  1. Myth#1 This coronavirus will die in warm climate
  2. Myth#2 Eating meat can cause COVID-19
  3. Myth#3 Eating Chinese food causes COVID-19
  4. Myth#4 If you can't hold your breath for 10 seconds, you have COVID-19
  5. Myth#5 Bleach gargles, colloidal silver and miracle mineral solution can keep you safe from COVID-19
  6. Myth#6 Vitamin C supplements can prevent COVID-19
  7. Myth#7 Drinking vodka or alcoholic beverages can keep you safe from COVID-19
  8. Myth#8 Putting mustard oil in nostrils can keep you safe from the new coronavirus
  9. Myth#9 COVID-19 only affects older people
  10. Myth#10 Any mask is better than no mask
  11. Myth#11 Garlic prevents COVID-19
  12. Myth#12 Pneumonia vaccines can prevent COVID-19
  13. Myth#13 You can get the disease from your pets
  14. Myth#14 Drinking warm water can prevent 2019 novel coronavirus infection
  15. Myth#15 COVID-19 can spread through mosquito bites
  16. Myth#16 COVID-19 is a death sentence
  17. Myth#17 COVID-19 is a bioweapon
  18. Myth #18 Blow dryers can kill coronavirus
  19. Myth#19 Kalonji seeds have hydroxychloroquine and hence can keep you safe from coronavirus infection
  20. Myth #20 5G is the actual cause of COVID-19
  21. Myth #21 Drinking tea can prevent COVID-19

A lot of people are claiming that just like the flu virus and the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 would die off once the temperature starts rising and there would be no cases in summers.

Truth: Researchers in China have found that SARS-CoV-2 - earlier known as the novel coronavirus - does love lower temperatures: about 8.2 degrees Celcius is perfect for the virus. However, the study was based only on the Chinese population and it did not mention if higher temperature harms or kills the virus.

Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, has already said that it would be a false hope to say that COVID-19 cases would decline in summers. 

Researchers at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US, say that SARS-CoV-2 is too new to say anything for sure about it. Current evidence shows that the virus can spread in a wide range of temperatures and sunlight. 

Also, SARS was controlled with the use of extensive public health measures and not because of the warmer climate. It was evident with the reemergence of the disease in Canada once the restrictions were relaxed.

The first few COVID-19 cases were reported from the Wuhan wet market - a place that sold all kinds of meat including seafood and animal meat. Hence, it is believed that animal meat including chicken and mutton can cause the disease.

Truth: As per the European Food Safety Authority, SARS-CoV-2 does not spread through food. However, there are a lot of infections that can spread if you don’t cook your food (especially meat) properly before consuming it. These include E.coli, Salmonella, and viruses like Hepatitis A and Norovirus. Cooking ensures that all these microbes are killed. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, you should wash all your food before cooking - wash and cut every type of meat separately and all meat should be washed and cut separately from fruits and vegetables. Also, make sure that any perishable food does not stay out of the fridge for more than two hours.

Chinese food is one of the most loved foods in the world. However, with the advent of COVID-19, now everyone is trying to avoid it as much as they can. And this belief can’t be farther from the truth.

Truth: The European Food Safety Authority has already said that COVID-19 does not spread through food. It is unlikely that eating any kind of food - so long as it is properly cooked through - would cause this disease. Besides, the Chinese food that you get at your local market has nothing to do with China. The ingredients are locally sourced. What you have to worry about though is junk food or unhealthy Chinese. Junk food contains a lot of sugar, salt and trans fats that can cause various health conditions - such as heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Also, monosodium glutamate (MSG) that is used as a flavour enhancer in certain Chinese dishes has been associated with an increased risk of allergies and asthma. Again not all Chinese food has MSG, nor does everyone have a sensitivity to MSG. In fact, depending on the ingredients and the cooking method, some Chinese food is considered to be healthy.

This is one of the scariest myths of all. It says that SARS-CoV-2 cases lung fibrosis quickly, and by the time you reach the hospital, your lungs already have 50% fibrosis. Lung fibrosis refers to scarring or hardening of lung tissue which causes difficulty breathing. However, according to the myth, if you can hold your breath for more than 10 seconds, it is a sign that your lungs are okay and you don’t have fibrosis or COVID-19. 

Truth: Experts say that while the 10 seconds breathing test can help look for severe lung diseases, SARS-CoV-2 does not cause lung fibrosis that quickly. It takes months or even years to develop fibrosis in lungs if you have pneumonia. Besides, most cases of the cases of COVID-19 are mild (or even asymptomatic) - they don’t cause pneumonia. 

There are various other conditions that may cause breathing difficulties such as asthma, anxiety and heart disease. It is important to know all the signs of COVID-19 and talk to your doctor at the earliest if you show fever, cough and shortness of breath.

This is one of the earliest myths that showed up with COVID-19. It suggests doing gargles with bleach or drinking colloidal silver or a miracle mineral solution if you want to be safe from the disease. 

Truth: Bleach is a class of industrial cleaners and disinfectants. It could be made of either peroxide (peroxide bleach), sodium hypochlorite or calcium hypochlorite (bleaching powder). Both of which are highly corrosive in nature - they damage any body tissue they touch. Gargling with bleach would hence cause irritation in your throat, vomiting and stomach upset. The miracle mineral solution (MMS) is also a type of bleach - it contains 28% sodium chlorite as per the labels on the product. As per the Food and Drug Administration, USA, consuming MMS along with citric acid (as the label says) could cause diarrhoea, hypertension and liver failure

Colloidal silver is considered to be unsafe for consumption. It affects the action of various drugs and can also cause a condition called argyria - permanent greying of skin.

Vitamin C is well known for its immunity-boosting effects. Since older people and those with a compromised immune system are most at risk of COVID-19, it is believed that consumption of vitamin C  supplements (even if you are otherwise healthy) or getting this vitamin through foods such as citrus fruits can strengthen your immune system so much that you would be safe from the disease. 

Truth: Your body needs every nutrient in only a certain amount to function properly. The rest is either thrown out of the body or may cause health conditions. The daily recommended requirement for vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men and about 75 milligrams for women. Since it is water-soluble, excess vitamin C gets flushed out of the body. But if you keep on loading up on vitamin C, it may cause an upset stomach, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

A balanced diet is much more helpful than overdosing on vitamin C (or for that matter, any nutrient) for keeping up your health.

All popular myths have one thing in common - they start with a tiny grain of truth in them somewhere. Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can kill the SARS-CoV-2. So a myth started doing the rounds on social media and WhatsApp groups that drinking alcohol, especially vodka, could reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.

Truth: Most of the alcohol you consume gets quickly absorbed from your stomach or intestines - depending on the amount of ethyl alcohol in your drink, it may take your body about an hour or so to completely metabolise an alcoholic beverage. The end products of alcohol metabolism - CO2 and acetate - are just thrown out of the body. In other words, they are useless.

Read more: How much is one drink

On the contrary, it has been scientifically proven that alcohol increases the number of bacteria in your body and suppresses your immune system, making you prone to infections.

This myth gained popularity in India rather than globally: the myth says that putting or applying mustard oil in your nostrils can protect you from COVID-19 for about eight hours. It is being circulated as a sort of home remedy for the infection. 

Truth: Mustard oil does have some anti-inflammatory properties - it reduces redness, swelling and irritation due to an infection. Studies show that this oil contains active sulphur compounds that are proven to be antimicrobial in nature. However, there is no conclusive evidence when it comes to the effectiveness of mustard oil against SARS-CoV-2. So it is best to stick to the doctor’s advice when it comes to COVID-19.

Most of the severe cases of COVID-19 are seen in the elderly (above 60 years of age) and those with chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart diseases. This has spread the notion that young people are safe from the infection. However, this is far from the truth.

Truth: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people of all age are susceptible to COVID-19. It is true that younger people are likely to get milder symptoms of the infection than the elderly, but they are not invincible. A COVID-19 infection may lead to a prolonged stay in the hospital even if you are young. Also, milder infections need proper monitoring since they become the most common cause of community transmission of the infection. So, it doesn’t matter what age you are, follow social distancing and take all the necessary precautions to keep the infection from spreading.

It is a common notion that wearing a mask would keep you safe from COVID-19. Most people use just any kind of mask when out in public. 

Truth: Though a good mask - a medical mask or N95 respirator - would help you stay safe from the virus, there is a trick to using them. (Read How effective are masks against COVID-19 and how to wear them

WHO recommends that masks should only be used when you are caring for a sick patient or to stop the spread of the disease in case you are sick yourself. 

Experts say that face masks are not an effective way to prevent the infection since it also spreads through contaminated surfaces and can enter your body when you touch your face. 

Face masks only work well when you also wash your hands or sanitize them regularly. Also, do not touch the mask from the front while removing it. Instead, gently loosen it from the back. If you are infected, dispose of the mask properly and avoid reusing single-use masks.

Read more: How to make your own hand sanitizer

Just like mustard, garlic is said to be a good remedy for COVID-19. It is believed that eating garlic can keep you safe from the SARS-CoV-2 infection because of its antimicrobial properties.

Truth: It's true that garlic has a lot of health benefits. Studies have shown that garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties. A clinical study showed that garlic may prevent a common cold. However, right now, there is no data to prove that eating garlic can be used as a prophylactic (preventive) measure for COVID-19.

Pneumonia is one of the clinical manifestations of COVID-19. So, it is believed that taking a pneumonia vaccine can keep you safe from it. 

Truth: The WHO says that pneumonia vaccines - like the pneumococcal vaccine -would do nothing to prevent COVID-19. Vaccines are specifically designed to stop or kill certain bacteria or viruses causing a disease. A vaccine against one disease would likely not save you from another. Since COVID-19 is a new virus, it needs its own vaccine.

Since a dog was thought to be COVID-19 positive in Hong Kong, fear spread that all kinds of pets can get (and hence transmit) the disease. The dog in the case was only weakly positive for the novel coronavirus and had not developed symptoms.

Truth: Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread from dogs and cats to humans. However, it is still suggested to be cautious and follow all the safety precautions while playing or spending time with your pets. Wash your hands properly after you come in contact with your pets or any animal. Animals (if they are sick) can spread infections such as Salmonella or E.coli.

Another common myth around COVID-19 is that if you constantly drink warm water, it will push the virus into your stomach instead of your throat and lungs. Since the stomach has a highly acidic environment, the virus would die there. 

Truth: Drinking water can help keep your throat moist, which is effective in loosening phlegm in case you have the common cold or nasal congestion. Also, it is suggested to take ample fluids to maintain your body’s normal functioning. But there is no evidence that drinking water can save you from COVID-19.

In fact, studies show MERS, a related coronavirus to COVID-19, uses the intestinal lining to enter the body. Also, SARS virus, another coronavirus, specifically affects the intestinal walls (apart from lungs), causing gastric lesions.

On the one hand, people are expecting COVID-19 to disappear in the summer months. On the other hand, there is a myth that says mosquitoes will spread the new coronavirus, especially in summers. These contradictory beliefs are easier to understand when you consider the amount of panic and anxiety that people are feeling about this new coronavirus - the truth is that we know very little about it. Here's what we do know:

Truth: There is no evidence so far on whether mosquitoes can or cannot spread the disease. COVID-19 is a respiratory condition, it spreads through droplet infection - the virus spreads when you cough or sneeze on someone or when you touch contaminated surfaces. It is, hence, advisable to avoid touching your face and wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the infection.

Since COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, there is a lot of misinformation and general anxiety about it. So much so that COVID-19 is being considered a death sentence by some. However, this is not the real situation.

Truth: Studies show that about 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild or moderate infections. The patient only has fever, cough and low-grade pneumonia. Only 2.3% of people who get the disease die from it. Immunocompromised people, the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases like hypertension, heart diseases and diabetes are high at risk of getting severe infection and complications.

Read more: Tips on how to care for COVID-19 patients at home

According to a conspiracy theory, SARS-CoV-2 is a bioweapon produced in a lab and was mistakenly released from the lab during research. 

Truth: Recent research done at the Scripps Research Institute, USA, has shown that SARS-CoV-2 was not made in a lab and has a natural origin. To find this out, the research team at Scripps took a closer look at the DNA sequence of the virus. They found that this virus has a site that is so perfectly tailored to binding to specific receptors in the human body that could only be explained through natural selection. Natural selection is an evolutionary process in which only the organisms that are adapted to their environment (in this case the human body) can survive. 

Also, if a virus was to be made in a lab, scientists would likely use the basic DNA structure of a known human virus, which is not really the case with SARS-CoV-2. Instead, the virus matched more to those found in bats and pangolins.

One of the most common myths about the coronavirus is that putting blow dryers right above your nostrils or mouth will kill SARS-COV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. The idea is that the dryer will create so much heat that the virus cannot survive.

Truth: Heat from blow dryers does not kill the COVID-19 causing virus as per the World Health Organisation. However, putting a blow dryer close to your mouth or nose can definitely damage your mucous membranes - the inner lining of the oral and nasal cavity. Studies show that hand dryers can reach a temperature of about 95 degree Celcius when kept at a distance of 5 cm from the body. This temperature can give you thermal burns, and if anything, will put you at a higher risk of COVID-19.

This is one of the latest myths about COVID-19. It says that Kalonji seeds contain 100% hydroxychloroquine and consuming it would hence keep you safe from COVID-19.

Truth: First, kalonji seeds do not contain hydroxychloroquine at all, and then, there is no evidence so far if hydroxychloroquine is actually effective against SARS-COV-2. However, studies show that kalonji seeds do contain some other compounds including nigellidine and alpha-hederin, which may be effective against COVID-19. But again a single study cannot be taken as proof. 

This is one of the more popular myths about COVID-19 that started through social media posts. It says that there is no coronavirus at all, everything that is happening is because of the instalment of 5G towers. The myth goes on to say that Bill gates installed these towers to reduce the population of the world and already has the cure to the disease. 

Truth: 5G radiation fall in the frequency range between <1 to 6 GHz. This is well below the upper limit of the Ultra high-frequency range - 300GHz - set to be safe for humans. 

Studies show that this range of radiation will not cause any heating effect. Besides, there is no proof that 5G radiation can cause negative health effects. More studies are still needed to assess the long term effects of 5G exposure.

This myth is directly attributed to Dr. Li Wenliang, the first person who raised alarm about the presence of a novel-pneumonia like illness in Wuhan, China. As per media reports, the doctor - who had later died of COVID-19 - had actually developed his own treatment for it. The treatment included 3 compounds that are present in tea - theophylline, methylxanthine and theobromine. 

Truth: Tea or warm beverages in general are said to be good for relieving a common cold. Theobromine can even suppress a cough and sooth respiratory symptoms by dialting the bronchi (airways in lungs). Theophylline can be used to treat asthma. However, the amount of these compounds in tea is much lower than the dose needed for a therapeutic effect. 

There is no evidence that any of the above-mentioned compounds are effective against viruses.


Medicines / Products that contain COVID-19 Myths and the Truth About Them

References

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