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14 myths about the coronavirus—and what’s true

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: As experts learn more about the novel coronavirus, news and information changes. For the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Misinformation about the novel coronavirus is spreading like, well, a virus. The current human coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has the world on edge, and with social media readily available, getting accurate information is easier than ever. Unfortunately, inaccurate information is just as easily transmitted. It’s hard to know what to do and how worried you should be. These are some of the most common myths circulating about COVID-19, and the coronavirus facts that you need.

A summary of coronavirus facts:

Myth #1: Coronavirus is the same as the flu

Coronavirus and the flu have some things in common: symptoms, how they spread, and their complications. But, they are different conditions: Coronavirus is from a different viral family than influenza (the flu).

The symptoms of the coronavirus can be similar to the flu and other respiratory illnesses, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In addition to similar symptoms, both viruses spread primarily from person to person through droplets in the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks (within about a six-foot distance). 

Additionally, the coronavirus spreads by touching infected droplets on a surface and then touching the face. A person who is infected with the flu is contagious several days before symptoms appear. The same is true of the coronavirus: The average incubation period for coronavirus is five days, but the longest known incubation period is 27 days.

Both viruses can cause serious complications that could involve hospital stays or even be fatal—but the fatality rates and current total coronavirus cases differ. The fatality rate of the coronavirus is higher than the flu and coronavirus is much more contagious.

Myth #2: Coronavirus only affects the elderly

While older people and people with underlying health conditions appear to be more severely affected by the virus, anyone can catch it and spread it. Everyone needs to take precautions.

RELATED: What older people should do to protect themselves from coronavirus

Myth #3: The coronavirus is likely to kill you

Most people who contract the coronavirus will survive. The fatality rate is still being determined and varies by country: See the latest data here. Of those deaths, most have an underlying health condition such as diabetes, hypertension, COPD, or heart disease, or are immunocompromised in some way. While this should be taken seriously, particularly when it comes to people who are vulnerable, and while these statistics do change as we get more data, it is reassuring to remember that the majority of people recover from the illness.

Myth #4: COVID-19 is the same as the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003

Though COVID-19 and SARS-CoV (which caused the 2002-2003 outbreak) are both coronaviruses, they are not the same virus. Although COVID-19 is referred to colloquially as coronavirus, coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses, with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and SARS-CoV being just two types. 

As with the flu, the new coronavirus COVID-19 shares some similarities with the SARS (which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2002-2003, but also some differences. The mortality rate appears to be lower than the 10% mortality rate in SARS, says Anis Rehman, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and a member of the SingleCare medical review board. “However, as compared to SARS or MERS-CoV outbreaks, coronavirus is highly transmissible though not as deadly,” he says.

Myth #5: There is a coronavirus vaccine

“There is currently no vaccine [that has been FDA approved] for this virus, though researchers are working on developing one,” says Kristi Torres, Pharm.D., a pharmacist at Tarrytown Expocare Pharmacy and a member of the SingleCare medical review board. 

Clinical human trials began on a vaccine against the coronavirus on Mar. 16. Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute began human clinical trials using a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. However, this vaccine may not be ready for the public for at least a year. 

In the meantime, you should still get your flu shot, and all other recommended vaccines. While they won’t protect against coronavirus, they are still important for your health.

Myth #6: Antibiotics can prevent coronavirus / Tamiflu can help with coronavirus symptoms

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, and have no effect on the coronavirus (or any virus). And while Tamiflu can help with symptoms of the flu; it has no effect on coronavirus symptoms. 

“There is no specific treatment at this point, and patients who have the coronavirus will need to be provided supportive care to relieve the symptoms and be closely monitored,” says Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer for SingleCare.

RELATED: What we know about current COVID-19 treatments

Myth #7: Face masks can’t protect you from coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear a cloth mask face covering when in public settings. Many retailers and city and state ordinances require masks. The face covering will help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. 

Those who are excluded from this recommendation are children 2 and younger and those with trouble breathing. 

Healthcare providers and those caring for people infected with coronavirus also need to wear masks; surgical masks and respirators should be reserved for critical health workers. 

Myth #8: The coronavirus is associated with Corona beer

It’s just a similar name, there is no other connection. 

Myth #9: Using hand dryers or UV lamps, or spraying your body with alcohol or chlorine is a good way to protect yourself from coronavirus

It’s not effective and could be dangerous! Your best defense is good old-fashioned frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water. Dr. Yacoub also suggests the following ways to avoid exposure:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick—practice social distancing of at least 6 feet and wear a mask.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Wash your hands and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. 
  • Avoid traveling if not essential, especially to areas with widespread disease.

RELATED: The do’s and don’ts of preparing for coronavirus

Myth #10: Home remedies such as eating garlic, putting on sesame oil, or rinsing the nasal passages are effective against the coronavirus

“Rinsing the nose with water and trying out home remedies won’t help in preventing getting sick from the coronavirus,” says Dr. Rehman. 

Dr. Torres adds: “Nasal passages should never be rinsed with tap water. Using commercially available sinus rinses may help relieve symptoms of congestion, but will not prevent the coronavirus, or any other virus, such as the flu or common cold.” 

Some home remedies may also be dangerous.

Myth #11: The coronavirus was deliberately created

This is an unfounded conspiracy theory. It most likely originated in an animal and evolved on mainland China in the Hubei province. 

Myth #12: The coronavirus was spread to humans by bat soup

Epidemiology experts say coronavirus didn’t come from bat soup. Many patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan were linked to a seafood and live animal market, so it’s suspected there was animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. Since then, the virus has been transmitted person-to-person.

Myth #13: You can catch the coronavirus from your pet or give it to them

The CDC says that pets do not play a significant role in spreading coronavirus as only a small number of pets have reported to be infected, likely from contracting it from humans. Still, practicing good hygiene around animals including proper handwashing is always a must as there are other illnesses that can be spread from animals to people.

Myth #14: Packages and mail are unsafe

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the virus does not live long on objects, such as letters and packages, and it is safe to receive mail and packages.

Resources for coronavirus updates:

Because the coronavirus outbreak is new, it is being studied carefully and new data on the virus is being released regularly. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments—but remember to investigate the sources and fact-check the information. Here are a few sources we trust:

Be prepared but not paranoid. Listen to public health officials, and remember to wash your hands!