Since the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the deadly, once-in-a-lifetime virus has infiltrated every corner of our lives. As of December 16, there have been more than 73 million cases of Covid-19 and 1.6 million deaths recorded worldwide — including more than 300,000 deaths in the United States.
But with new and often conflicting information being released all the time, it can be hard to decipher fact from a misguided tweet (or comment from President Trump) gone, well, viral. Especially now with cases rising and many parts of the country facing a 'second wave', it's important to have the facts straight so you can politely shut down that crazy aunt on Facebook who still says the virus is a hoax.
Ahead, health experts weed through some of the biggest (and most dangerous) myths floating around about Covid-19.
Myth #1: Asymptomatic carriers can't spread the virus.
"Asymptomatic transmission," aka the ability to spread Covid-19 without presenting any symptoms was a big driver behind the enactment of strict social distancing guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic. But in June, the World Health Organization (WHO) incited mass confusion when the group said that asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus was "very rare.” After receiving backlash from many public health experts and infectious disease specialists, the WHO quickly backtracked, clarifying that those without symptoms ("asymptomatic") are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who go on to develop symptoms ("presymptomatic").
Bottom line: While it's intrinsically difficult to monitor silent transmission, it is still believed to be a major driver of the spread of Covid-19, which is why masks and social-distancing continue to be so crucial.
Myth #2: Once the vaccine is here, we won't need to wear masks anymore.
At long last, the COVID-19 is being distributed in the U.S. While some have assumed that getting the vaccine means masks are no longer necessary, unfortunately, that's not the case.
Why? While we know the vaccine is very effective at preventing people from getting very sick from Covid, Pfizer and Moderna have not yet looked into whether the vaccine prevents someone from becoming infected without developing any symptoms. (Generally speaking, preventing severe disease with a vaccine is easiest, preventing mild disease is harder, and preventing all infections is the hardest, according to immunologists.)
In other words, experts say it's possible that someone could get the vaccine and still silently spread it to others (here's that asymptomatic transmission again). This is why Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts recommend people still wear masks — and practice social distancing — even after getting the vaccine.
Myth #3: Thermal scanners can detect Covid.
Temperature checks have become standard outside of places like restaurants and nail salons. But using them to detect Covid cases is flawed for a few reasons. First of all, while they're effective in detecting people with a higher than normal body temperature, there are many other causes of fever that aren't Covid, the WHO points out. Another big issue? It's possible to be infected with coronavirus and have no fever, or a very low-grade one, especially in the first few days. Simply put: Temperature checks can only detect a temperature, not Covid.
Myth #4: Covid symptoms look the same from person to person.
While cough, fever, and shortness of breath were the main symptoms initially associated with COVID-19 and the most common, the list of potential symptoms continued to grow over the summer as we learned more about the virus. We now know it's possible for symptoms to look very different from one person to the next.
While this list does not include all possible symptoms (for example, rashes can also be a symptom of coronavirus), the CDC currently suggests watching out for these 11 symptoms of COVID-19:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Myth #5: Wearing a face mask can make you sick.
There’s been some speculation on social media that wearing a mask can cause you to rebreathe the carbon dioxide you exhale and make you sick. However, experts confirm that this is very unlikely to happen from wearing a fabric mask — especially if you’re only wearing it for short periods of time. (Think about it: Surgeons wear even more substantial face coverings all day without endangering their health.)
Despite what anyone may try to convince you, wearing a cloth mask when you need to go in public (particularly in crowded areas) is crucial to help protect you and others from getting sick — not the other way around. "Masks help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets — the primary way Covid-19 spreads," explains Nate Favini, M.D., the medical lead of Forward, a preventive primary care practice.
Myth #6: Ibuprofen can make you more vulnerable to coronavirus.
A study published in a highly-respected medical journal, The Lancet, in early March first caused this suggestion to spread widely, says Erika Schwartz. M.D., founder of Evolved Science. "The authors suggested that using NSAIDs (aka nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ibuprofen being one of them) may increase vulnerability to coronavirus,” Dr. Schwartz says. "There has been no substantiation or follow up to the claim.”
FWIW, the World Health Organization (WHO) retracted its original statement that people should avoid ibuprofen. The organization wrote on Twitter: "Based on currently available information, the WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen."
FYI, Dr. Schwartz still suggests avoiding it — but not because of its relation to Covid-19. "Ibuprofen and the other NSAIDs are widely used to decrease inflammation and fever and are associated with many side effects like gastritis, ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeds,” she says. "Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) works as well on fevers and has none of the side effects.”
Myth #7: Only older adults are at risk.
This one is, perhaps, the biggest myth among millennials – and could be deadly. While the WHO confirms that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes, heart disease) do appear to be more vulnerable to the virus, the organization has also established that people of all ages can be infected by Covid-19, including children.
In fact, says Dr. Favini, while "people of any age or group can be asymptomatic carriers,” it’s younger people who are more likely to carry the virus to other people. "Though younger people may be asymptomatic and/or have mild symptoms, it is extremely important for people of all ages to practice social distancing,” he says.
Myth #8: Your blood type can make you more susceptible.
Preliminary research out of China showed that about 45% of people from Wuhan who contracted and died from coronavirus had type A blood, Dr. Schwartz says. These same researchers also suspect people with type A blood are more susceptible to the virus and develop more severe symptoms, she explains.
"Having said that, the study was on around 250 people, was never peer-reviewed and doesn't take into account what the distribution of blood type is in that area of China,” Dr. Schwartz says.
Bottom line: Blood type doesn't appear to be a significant risk driver, and having type A blood should not make you more worried about contracting the coronavirus.
Myth #9: Rinsing your nose with saline can protect against coronavirus.
While there is some evidence that suggests rinsing the nose regularly with saline solution can speed up a case of the common cold, there is no proof that the same practice can protect against coronavirus, says Edo Paz, M.D., vice president of medical at K Health.
Dr. Schwartz agrees, adding that using saline on a regular basis could be counterproductive, instead irritating your nose. As an alternative, she recommends keeping your mouth and nasal passages moist — which can keep a virus from getting into your lungs — by "drinking lots of water and staying extremely well hydrated.”
Reminder: "The sign of being well-hydrated is that your urine is colorless and you urinate every couple of hours,” she says, adding that you should keep from overdoing it on alcohol, caffeine, and tea, all of which can be dehydrating.
Myth #10: Vinegar can kill coronavirus.
"Vinegar is not recommended to disinfect from coronavirus. Alcohol is the best disinfectant and should be left on the surface to be disinfected for a while then wiped off,” Dr. Schwartz says.
Instead, the CDC recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Use a diluted bleach solution, cleaners that include at least 70% alcohol, or other household disinfectants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Myth #11: Home remedies and supplements can cure or prevent coronavirus.
Chances are you've seen a variety of supplements being touted as "cures" for coronavirus. But whether it's vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, essential oils, or garlic, none of these remedies are proven to cure or prevent the virus.
As for the supplement colloidal silver, which has been marketed a Covid-19 treatment, just stay away. Per every health organization out there, it's not effective for treating any disease – and can even cause serious side effects. For a full list of specific companies making claims that their product can prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure the coronavirus, check out this list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Myth #12: You should always wear disposable gloves in public.
At one point, the CDC recommended gloves as an added protective layer for public outings, but it has since backtracked and currently only suggests wearing gloves when you are cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.
In fact, wearing gloves can actually do more harm than good by providing a false sense of protection, explains John Whyte, M.D., a board-certified internist and Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. "You might actually touch contaminated surfaces with the gloves and then touch your eyes and face, and probably your phone. Touching your face and your phone with dirty gloves defeats the whole purpose,” he says.
While gloves can't hurt if you're using them properly, in most situations they are not necessary. Instead, continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask when you go out in public, and wash your hands properly afterward.
Myth #13: Ingesting disinfectants or bleach can kill coronavirus.
This myth should be put to rest by now, but it's worth repeating: Despite President Donald Trump stating in a coronavirus briefing back in April that disinfectants can "knock out" coronavirus "by injection inside," the medical community begs to differ. Consuming or injecting disinfectant or bleach is extremely dangerous — it can lead to poisoning and death. "This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it's dangerous," pulmonologist Vin Gupta, M.D. told NBC News.
So keep using your disinfectants to kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces, but don't ingest or inject them under any circumstances, okay?
Myth #14: Exposing yourself to the sun — or to snow — can kill the virus.
You may have heard hot weather thwarts coronavirus, or that cold weather and snow can do the same. But nine months into this pandemic, we know that Covid can be spread in any climate. Countries with hot weather have reported cases of Covid-19 – and experts say the temperature outside isn't . To protect yourself, keep washing your hands, wearing your mask, and practicing social-distancing.