- Misinformation about the novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
- Despite what you might've heard, you cannot get the virus from an imported package or a pet, and there's no evidence that garlic, marijuana, or sesame oil will help treat it.
- The best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and other viral illnesses, is to stay home when you're sick and wash your hands frequently and vigorously with soap and water.
The novel coronavirus and the human illness it causes, COVID-19, are deadly and spreading fast.
As of Monday, more than 3,000 people have died from the virus that emerged in December in Wuhan, China, and another 89,250 had been confirmed ill with the sickness, which prompts fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
The virus is now found on every continent, save frozen Antarctica, and the number of new infections reported around the globe is soaring, even as transmission in China appears to be slowing down dramatically. There is no treatment or vaccine for the virus, which scientists think originated in bats and may have hopped into an intermediary host animal before infecting people.
Still, some are peddling misinformation about where the virus comes from and how to "cure" it, with people around the globe hungry for easy answers to combat the spread of this new and relatively unknown virus.
Here are a few of the most egregious claims we've heard so far, as well as some of the best advice from experts on how to actually stay healthy and disease-free.
First, it's important to know there is no treatment or medicine for the illness. Taking antibiotics won't help, since it's a virus and not bacterial.
Treatment for the novel coronavirus is a lot like the flu. Patients are advised to rest up and drink plenty of fluids.
In severe cases, people who are having trouble breathing may need oxygen support. So far, older people are more susceptible than youngsters under 15, and most of the fatal cases have been among the elderly and patients with preexisting health conditions.
There is no vaccine for the coronavirus yet.
Though the virus is believed to have originated in bats, there's no evidence that meat-eating is linked to the coronavirus, and you can't get it from your pets.
People can spread the coronavirus to each other by having close contact (usually virus particles get passed around within 6 feet of an infected person), but there's no good evidence that cats and dogs can get infected or give the virus to their owners.
It's true that scientists suspect that the virus originated in a Chinese wet market, where people coexist in cramped quarters alongside animals both alive and dead, but it's not accurate to say the virus is linked to eating meat, as PETA UK has.
"We get new viruses all the time," Dr. Robert Amler, the dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College who was previously chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently told Business Insider at a coronavirus conference. "There's so much commerce and exchange between people that it is fully expected that some of these cases will spread."
The virus is very fragile outside the human body, which means you can't get it from a package or an envelope.
Some people have raised concerns that they might be able to contract the coronavirus from imported goods packed by people in other countries.
But public-health experts point out that the virus can live for only a few hours on hard surfaces, and the only way it's being spread among people is through close contact.
For example, the first case of human-to-human transmission in the US was between a husband and wife living together. Other cases have also been spread between patients and doctors in Chinese hospitals.
The coronavirus particles are very heavy and usually fall to the ground right around a sick person, rather than lingering in the air, becoming airborne. This makes the virus far less contagious than some others, like the measles. Epidemiologists studying the novel coronavirus have found that a single infected person tends to spread the illness to one to three other people, much like the seasonal flu.
So far, children have proved rather resilient to this virus. Much like SARS, there are few COVID-19 deaths in people under 15. A mother with the novel coronavirus reportedly gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby, and the average age of coronavirus patients, in one recent Lancet study, was about 55 years old.
COVID-19 is not like the seasonal flu. Evidence so far suggests it is more deadly.
Medical staff hug each other at a hospital in China's eastern Shandong province on January 28, 2020.
STR/AFP via Getty Images
A case of COVID-19 usually starts out with a fever and dry cough. 80% of diagnoses are mild, and most people who've gotten sick in China are recovering from it well. However, the virus appears to be more deadly than the seasonal flu.
Children appear to be some of the least at-risk individuals: noCOVID-19 deaths in people under 10 years old have been reported.
Do not use any "miracle mineral solution" to combat the virus. It's industrial bleach, and it is dangerous and unhelpful.
As Business Insider's Gabby Landsverk previously reported, "the 'miracle mineral solution,' as it's known online (MMS for short), is a solution of 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water."
The substance is not a cure for the coronavirus, but it is dangerous to human health, and it can prompt severe vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and acute liver failure.
Some bleach-based cleaners, however, are helpful for keeping surfaces virus-free.
The World Health Organization said "bleach/chlorine-based disinfectants, ether solvents, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and cholorform" are all great ways to kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, where transmission is possible, if not probable.
But the chemicals are dangerous when people put them on their skin, under their noses, or in their mouths, and they have "little or no impact on the virus" that way, the WHO said.
Likewise, algae is not a treatment for the new coronavirus.
There is some evidence that red marine algae may inactivate certain viruses, like the ones that cause common cold sores (herpes). But the same hasn't been shown of the novel coronavirus.
"The problem is that there are some 4,000 species of such algae, some of which may work against some viral infections but not against others," the McGill Office for Science and Society wrote online. "Without any regulations about proper labeling and without any requirement for verification of contents, it is a crap shoot."
Nevertheless, at least one "holistic" healer, Gabriel Cousens, told his followers in a recent email that they should use red algae to prevent and potentially treat the coronavirus, even though no scientist has ever studied the effect of red algae on this virus.
"I can't make a claim for the effectiveness of red algae against the coronavirus," Cousens said.
Nor will eating garlic or sesame oil do much for you.
The WHO also said garlic "may have some antimicrobial properties," but there's no reason to believe it can ward off the coronavirus, and sesame oil (either applied topically or ingested) won't kill the virus either.
Marijuana is not a cure for this coronavirus.
Despite any posts you may have seen on Facebook suggesting that "scientist are shocked to discover that weed kills coronavirus," that's not true.
There is good evidence that marijuana contains antibacterial cannabinoids that can kill bacteria. This is why scientists suspect weed may one day help treat antibiotic-resistant diseases, but again, the novel coronavirus is a viral illness, not a bacterial one, so pot's not going to be much use in this outbreak.
Neither is cocaine.
Once again, ignore any miracle cocaine coronavirus cures that might pop up on Facebook.
The truth is that cocaine is a highly addictive substance and can cause respiratory problems. That is certainly no help when you're dealing with a virus that (in severe cases) can make it difficult to breathe.
Coconut oil is smooth and rich, but it also has no place in coronavirus treatment.
At least one health official in the Philippines recently suggested that coconut oil was "being looked into" to kill the new coronavirus, but that's not true in any serious way.
There are some studies, in mice, that have shown coconut oil might, just might, help kill bacteria that cause some Staphylococcus (staph) infections. But that doesn't mean the same will ever be true in people.
In fact, scientists don't even know if our bodies are capable of making the compound derived from a coconut's lauric acid that could provide such a bacteria-killing bonus. Besides, the novel coronavirus is not the same as staph, anyway.
Vitamin C won't do much for someone with the coronavirus, just as it doesn't help provide much relief for people with a cold.
At least one self-billed "megavitamin man" has promoted the idea online that intravenous vitamin C is being administered to coronavirus patients in China. But there's no evidence that's going on, and also no indication that vitamin C can help cure or ease a case of COVID-19.
Even for the common cold, taking vitamin C regularly provides only marginal benefits to highly athletic people like marathon runners and soldiers.
Rinsing your nose with saline or gurgling mouthwash will not prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Yes, some kinds of mouthwash can kill microbes in your mouth, and rinsing your nostrils out (like with a neti pot) can feel good if you have a stuffy nose, but neither will prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There are a few basic, science-backed things everyone can do to prevent the spread of this novel coronavirus. No. 1, wash your hands.
Frequently, and with soap and water.
"If I could teach one thing to the public that would prevent most of the diseases that I have to deal with, it would be wash your hands and teach your children how to wash hands," Dr. Sherlita Amler, an adjunct professor of public health at New York Medical College who is commissioner of health in Westchester County, said Friday. "Believe it or not, most people do not have much of an idea how they really should wash their hands, and in fact, I think some people actually try to do it without getting their hands wet."
Amler said it was important to use soap and was "the frictional movement of your hands that actually gets the bacteria off of your hands."
Hand sanitizer is helpful in a pinch, but nothing beats a good 20-second rub with soap and water followed by a dry-off with a paper towel.
Getting your flu shot (if you haven't already) is also a great way to protect yourself from viral illnesses this season.
Amler said it's a great way to help yourself remain calm in this outbreak.
"It's much less likely that you're going to have the flu, which means you're less likely to have respiratory symptoms, which means you're less likely to feel anxious that, 'Oh my God, do I have this new disease that they're talking about?' Probably not. You probably had the flu."
Stay away from sick people, and don't go to work or school if you're sick.
"If you're ill, your family members are ill, stay home, don't spread those diseases," Amler said. "Basically that's what they've done in China, they have isolated everyone."
And remember, face masks don't really help much, unless you put them on the people who are already sick, to protect others.
Amler said face masks might be flying off shelves around the globe more for psychological reasons than preventive ones.
"I think the problem is they don't know what else to do," Amler said. "They're just trying anything that they can do to help prevent themselves from getting sick."
Her husband, also Dr. Amler, agreed.
"Paper, surgical-type masks that you see in operating rooms ... these are designed to prevent your own coughing and excretions from getting into other people," he said. "They are really not to protect the wearer, they're designed to protect the people all around you."
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