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Coronavirus: Which myths should you watch out for?

Myths about the novel coronavirus seem to spread even faster than the virus itself, and they can put your health at risk. We’ve reviewed the evidence on the claims we’ve been asked about the most.

Our evidence-based analysis on coronavirus: which myths should you watch out for? features 12 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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There’s a lot of misinformation being spread about the novel coronavirus. Get updates you can trust.

Summary of Coronavirus: Which myths should you watch out for?

  • For general information on COVID-19, see here.

  • For research information on COVID-19, see here.

  • For evidence on mask efficacy for COVID-19, see here.

  • For a short list of reliable COVID-19 resources, see here.

  • For a look at some prevalent COVID-19 myths, please keep reading.

Don’t contribute to the spread of misinformation. Don’t assume that if a well-meaning friend forwarded you some information, it has to be true. Don’t assume that forwarding this or that piece of advice “can’t hurt” — false alarms, false reassurances, and baseless recommendations all have the potential to harm.

So check the source of your source. Find the original source of the information and make sure it’s one you can trust.

Table of contents

Myth: Supplements have proven efficacy against COVID-19.

While some supplements show a small benefit for some respiratory infections, extrapolating those data to COVID-19 is highly risky. Similarly, in vitro evidence for the novel coronavirus doesn’t mean a supplement is effective in actual living humans.

You can take select nutritional supplements in reasonable amounts to help maintain your health — moderate doses of vitamin D, for instance, to ensure adequate blood levels during the weeks spent indoors.[1] But don’t let supplements give you a false sense of security, and don’t take a kitchen-sink approach by using all the supplements that have any hint of effect. A supplement that helps mitigate influenza or rhinoviruses could theoretically exacerbate effects from the novel coronavirus, due to different viral mechanisms and symptoms.

Finally, a few “supplements” are unequivocally dangerous, notably the so-called Miracle Mineral Solution, as the FDA has warned repeatedly.

Myth: You can kill the virus with high-pH foods.

You may have read that you can kill the virus by increasing the pH of your blood by eating high-pH foods. You can’t. Except in case of severe disease (cancer, ketoacidosis, liver failure, severe poisoning …), your blood pH is tightly regulated to a healthy range by your body’s built-in buffering system.[2] You can read more about this here.

Myth: COVID-19 is less dangerous than the seasonal flu.

Current evidence points to the reverse. COVID-19 has higher transmissibility, and its case fatality rate is currently ten to twenty times that of the seasonal flu (although that multiplier may trend lower as further mild cases are documented). And unlike with the seasonal flu, there isn’t any immunity established in humans, nor are there standardized treatments. You may want to watch this well-made video.

Myth: You’re contagious only if you have symptoms.

When infected, most people don’t show any symptoms for several days. Some never do. Your presymptomatic or asymptomatic friends could infect you; you could unknowingly infect your friends. Minimize interactions and maintain physical distance. Visits to the elderly and immunocompromised are especially inadvisable.

Myth: COVID-19 is dangerous only for older people.

Less risk ≠ no risk. Yes, it seems that, in China, less than 1% of the cases have been in children under 10;[3] but that’s still a lot of children. And yes, in children, symptoms tend to be mild; but as in adults, underlying health issues can make them more severe. In China, the youngest person to die was 10 months old.[4] The second youngest, 14 years old.[5] In the US, three children died between February 12 and April 2, 2020.[6] Also, we don’t know what the long-term effects will be. And of course, young people can transmit the disease to older people, without necessarily displaying any symptoms themselves.

Myth: A vaccine will be available soon.

Scientists in several countries are already working on a vaccine, but it’ll take many months before one is considered both effective and safe enough to be made widely available.

In March, when he was interviewed by JAMA, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, estimated that it would take a year to a year and a half to ready a vaccine for public use. Later the same month, when he testified in front of the House, he gave the same estimate — and warned about the dangers of going faster at the cost of cutting corners.

Myth: The virus will disappear when it gets warmer.

We don’t know for sure, but don’t hold your breath: as of mid-March, some countries with confirmed cases have already had days above 80°F (27°C). Warm and humid weather may slow the virus[7] — but isn’t likely to stop it.

Myth: It’s time to buy months of supplies.

Having supplies for two or three weeks makes sense. Buying enough of everything to last for months, however, is inducing panic by creating artificial shortages and making it tougher for the most at-risk people to get what they need.

Myth: Staying at home is necessary only if you’re sick.

Avoiding other people will protect both you and them, whether or not you feel sick. When infected, most people don’t show any symptoms for several days. Minimize direct interactions and maintain physical distance. Procuring food and medical services is vital, but most direct interactions are not, and you won’t be able to tell who’s sick just by looking at them.

Myth: If you have COVID-19, you can tell.

No, you can’t. A dry cough is more common with COVID-19, but a wet cough and a runny nose (sputum production and rhinorrhea) are possible.[8][9][10][11] There is no easy way to distinguish between COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold. You may have heard that if you can hold your breath for more than 10 seconds without coughing or discomfort, you don’t have COVID-19 — this is untrue.

Myth: If you have COVID-19, you’re as good as dead.

In China, 81% of the infected had mild symptoms (which varied from very mild to feeling terrible but not requiring hospitalization), 14% had severe symptoms (requiring hospitalization and possibly supplemental oxygen), and 5% had critical symptoms. The fatality rate was just above 2% of cases (but climbed to 8% in people aged 70–79 and to nearly 15% in people aged 80+).[3]

Myth: You can get COVID-19 from your pet.

It appears unlikely according to current understanding, unless your pet is a bat or a pangolin.

One dog in China seems to have contracted a low-level infection from its COVID-19-infected owner, and there is very preliminary evidence that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can replicate more efficiently in cats than in dogs[12] (which means from cat to cat, not from cat to human), but as of today, April 8, the CDC says “there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the United States”. (However, it also warns that cats and dogs can spread other diseases to people, so anyway, if you pet one, wash your hands afterward.)

Relatedly, during the SARS outbreak, several cats and dogs became infected, but no evidence was ever found of viral transmission to humans.

Get evidence-based updates on COVID-19 straight to your inbox

There’s a lot of misinformation being spread about the novel coronavirus. Get updates you can trust.

Click here to see all 12 references.