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10 coronavirus (COVID-19) myths debunked

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about coronavirus (COVID-19). Benenden Health’s society matron Cheryl Lythgoe separates the fact from the fiction with these scientific truths about this global pandemic.

What we know about coronavirus

Although we’re all learning new things about coronavirus daily, there are a few facts we know to be absolutely true about the virus today:

• Current scientific modelling tells us the virus is expected to peak in 10-14 weeks. 4 out of 5 people will have symptoms akin to the common cold whereas 1 in 20 may require more medical care.

• The healthier people who contract the virus will benefit the population at large. This is because it will allow the body to build natural antibodies against the virus therefore providing ‘herd immunity’ for the population. This will help to protect the more vulnerable.

• This pandemic will place immeasurable strain on our health system so people need to take a common-sense approach and follow Public Health England guidelines of good hygiene, appropriately managing respiratory symptoms and self-isolating when required.

• The term “pandemic” does not have a strict technical definition, but basically it means there is sustained person-to-person spread in multiple countries. It does not infer the severity of the disease/virus.

• Be kind, look after those who are more vulnerable and do not panic.

Coronavirus myths debunked

Myth – Coronavirus only affects older people

Fact – Any age can be affected by coronavirus. Older people, those with an impaired immune system and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart diseases, etc. appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

Myth – All hand sanitisers can protect you from coronavirus

Fact – Not all hand sanitisers are created equal. They are extremely useful when travelling or commuting, but if your hand sanitiser contains less than 60 per cent alcohol – or, worse, none – it won't offer much protection from coronavirus. Expert advice at Public Health England and the World Health Organisation states that hand sanitisers must contain at least 60 per cent alcohol to be truly effective. Soap and water remain the best method of removing bacteria and viruses.

Myth – Alcohol can kill the coronavirus

Fact – Booze will not prevent you catching the virus. Whether it's vodka or the finest Merlot, your tipple of choice will not cure coronavirus. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will also not help. Alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.

Myth – It is unsafe to receive a package from infected countries

Fact – No, it isn’t unsafe to receive packages from infected areas. Coronavirus does not survive long on objects like packages, and it is safe to receive mail from infected countries. Most viruses live on hard surfaces for approximately 48 hours, but this is dependent upon heat, sunlight and the virus. Transference is made through touching a live contaminated surface and then touching your face, eyes or mouth.

Myth – Vaccines against pneumonia protects against coronavirus

Fact – The truth is that no vaccines against pneumonia protect against COVID-19, this is a different virus and needs its own vaccine. Scientists are currently conducting trials and studies to develop a vaccine. There’s a lengthy process needed to produce, test and launch a vaccine for the masses so experts are predicting this will take 18-24 months using an accelerated timetable. So, a vaccine is not going to stop the current outbreak. The race to develop a vaccine is therefore about stopping the future spread of infection. If a person contacts pneumonia while suffering from the coronavirus the pneumonia vaccine could be effective against the condition. Irrespective of this, it is important that those who are vulnerable maintain their recommended preventative vaccine schedules (i.e. flu and pneumonia).

Myth – Some antibiotics and medications can prevent and treat coronavirus

Fact – COVID-19 is a virus which means antibiotics are not effective against it. There is no proof or evidence that specific medicines can fully prevent or treat coronavirus. If a person is severely unwell medication can be to manage the symptoms of the virus, but not the virus itself.

Myth – Gargling, using mouthwash and keeping your nose clean protects you against coronavirus

Fact – There is no proof or evidence that gargling, using a mouthwash and keeping your nose clean protects against coronavirus. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to suggest regularly rinsing the nose with saline or gargling mouthwash will ward off COVID-19. Increasing hand hygiene and not touching the face will help to protect viral spread.

Myth – Hand dryers kill the coronavirus

Fact – No, not even those made by James Dyson! Hand dryers are not effective in killing coronavirus or any other known virus for that matter. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with soap and water. Once your hands are clean, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.

Myth – Covering up with DIY masks and gloves is a good idea

Fact – Social media and the news is awash with images of people wearing everything from face masks to full-face helmets forged from recycled water bottles and surgical/cotton gloves. Sales of paper masks and gloves have dramatically increased. Do any of these preventive methods work? No. In fact, water bottles and plastic bags worn over the head pose little more than a potential suffocation risk. Even surgical masks are unlikely to help as they are designed to keep droplets in, not out, and must be changed frequently. The wearing of gloves can also lead to false confidence and decrease good hand hygiene. We need to ensure we regularly wash hands, not touch our face and keep surfaces clean.

Myth – Coronavirus was/is spread by animals to humans

Fact – For now, there’s no proof that animals or pets, such as dogs or cats, can be infected with COVID-19. There is also no proof it can spread between animals and humans. You should always wash your hands and face with soap and water after handling pets and animals.