Coronavirus myths: what to look out for

As Coronavirus continues to dominate our lives, we explode some popular myths and stories circulating on social media and beyond.

Spraying chlorine or alcohol on the skin kills viruses in the body
Applying alcohol or chlorine to the body can cause harm, especially if it enters the eyes or mouth. Although people can use these chemicals to disinfect surfaces, they should not use them on the skin.

These products cannot kill viruses within the body.

Cats and dogs spread coronavirus
Currently, there is little evidence to suggest that the virus can infect cats and dogs. However, in Hong Kong, a Pomeranian whose owner had COVID-19 also contracted the virus. The dog did not display any symptoms.

Scientists are debating the importance of this case to the outbreak. For instance, Prof. Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, says:

“We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of the virus. I still think it’s questionable how relevant it is to the human outbreak, as most of the global outbreak has been driven by human-to-human transmission.”

He continues: “We need to find out more, but we don’t need to panic — I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels of the virus. The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”

Face masks always protect against coronavirus
Healthcare workers use professional face masks, which fit tightly around the face, to protect themselves from infection. Disposable and cloth masks can protect against droplets, but neither can protect against the very small particles that we exhale.

Many countries are recommending or enforcing the wearing of cloth face masks or coverings in public places where it is difficult to maintain a 2 metre distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people and those who do not know that they have contracted it.

When wearing a mask, it is essential to continue with other precautions, such as not touching the face and practising physical distancing.

Surgical masks and N95 respirators provide greater protection, but these are reserved for healthcare workers only.

You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus
The longer someone is with a person who has it, the more likely they are to catch the virus themselves, but it is still possible to catch it in under 10 minutes.

The virus will die off when temperatures rise in the spring
Some viruses, such as cold and flu viruses, do spread more easily in the colder months, but that does not mean that they stop entirely when conditions become milder.

As it stands, scientists do not know how temperature changes will influence the behaviour of COVID-19.

The virus originated in a laboratory in China
Despite internet rumours, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. In fact, a recent study demonstrates that the virus is a natural product of evolution.

Some researchers believe that the virus may have jumped from pangolins to humans. Others think that it might have passed to us from bats, which was the case for the SARS virus.

Injecting or consuming bleach or disinfectant kills the virus
Consuming or injecting disinfectant or bleach will not remove viruses from the body.

Dr Wayne Carter, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham’s school of medicine in , writes that disinfectants and bleach are useful to kill bacteria or viruses when they are deposited on surfaces, but these agents should not be ingested or injected. These agents can cause severe tissue burns and blood vessel damage.”

Dr. Penny Ward, Visiting Professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London, explains, “Drinking bleach kills. Injecting bleach kills faster.”

The advice for avoiding catching COVID-19 is to follow these rules:

  • Regular, effective handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoiding touching the face
  • Using hand sanitiser when unable to wash your hands
  • Social distancing
  • Wearing a cloth face covering in public places where social distancing is not possible.
  • Staying at home where possible and limiting contact with other people.