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14 myths about the coronavirus—and what’s true

Heather M. Jones writer headshot By | Updated on March 19, 2020
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Hudson, APRN, NP-C

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 coronavirus, and the facts that you need.

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 suspected of the coronavirus. The longest known incubation period for coronavirus 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: The coronavirus is likely to kill you

Most people who contract the coronavirus will survive. The fatality rate is about 3% to 4% with 15% of cases being severe and 5% are critical and require support from a ventilator to breathe. Of those, 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 #3: 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 is [lower] compared to the 9% 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.”

Myth #4: 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.

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. However, there is emerging data that shows the efficacy of using chloroquine (an anti-malarial drug that has been on the market for years) to treat coronavirus.

Myth #7: You should wear a face mask to protect yourself

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend wearing a face mask unless directed by a healthcare professional. Masks help keep an infected individual from spreading the virus rather than keeping healthy people from catching it. Healthcare providers and those caring for people infected with coronavirus need to wear masks. 

“There is mixed evidence at best for how effective masks would be at preventing the spread of coronavirus,” Dr. Torres says. “There are different types of masks, which have varying filter sizes. Not all masks are created equal.”

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.
  • 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 (such as China, Iran, Europe, and South Korea, as well as some places in the U.S. like Washington State and New York).

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

To date, the CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals contracting the human coronavirus, even though it is thought the virus originated in an animal. That said, the CDC recommends staying away from pets and other animals if you are infected with coronavirus as a precaution while the disease becomes better understood. 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 from China are unsafe

While China currently has the most cases of COVID-19 on record, the stigma against Chinese people and Chinese products is unwarranted and harmful. 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 from China.

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!