There are certain "recurring themes" of disease outbreaks that are once again emerging as the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV2, nears pandemic status—and one of those is the rampant spread of misinformation about the virus. Below, Daily Briefing's Ashley Fuoco Antonelli busts the five biggest myths we've seen about the new coronavirus.
Our analysis: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks
Myth 1: Saline, garlic, and sesame oil can prevent coronavirus infection
In recent weeks, several myths have circulated that promise to help prevent a person from contracting the coronavirus. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has received several questions about whether certain over-the-counter items—including saline nasal spray, garlic, and sesame oil—can prevent a person from contracting the virus.
However, WHO notes that there's "no evidence" that any of those products can ward off SARS-CoV2. WHO explained that while there's "some limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold," there's "no evidence" the practice can protect people from the new coronavirus.
In addition, WHO states that although "[g]arlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties," there's "no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus."
Similarly, WHO said there's no evidence to suggest using sesame oil to "block" the virus "from entering the body" is effective, stating, "No. Sesame oil does not kill the new coronavirus."
It's also important to keep in mind that, to date, there's no known preventive treatment for the new coronavirus. WHO notes that while researchers, including those in the United States, are pursuing possible vaccines against SARS-CoV2, no vaccine is currently available. Right now, the best methods of prevention, according to CDC, are to avoid close contact with sick individuals, wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, clean and disinfect hard surfaces, and limit touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Myth 2: Spraying your body down with alcohol or chlorine, or swallowing bleach, can kill the new coronavirus
Another myth that's been gaining traction is that dousing oneself in alcohol or chlorine can kill the new coronavirus. However, WHO notes that while there is evidence that chemical disinfectants, such as those containing bleach or chlorine, can kill SARS-CoV2 on surfaces, the products will not ward off the virus when used on human skin. What's more, WHO warns that using those chemicals on your skin can be "harmful."
Similarly, Gregory Poland, a virus expert and head of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, told Healthline's Joni Sweet that drinking so-called "Miracle Mineral Solutions" won't cure you of the coronavirus because the virus attacks "your respiratory cells, not your gastrointestinal system." Further, FDA since 2010 has warned consumers not to consume Miracle Mineral Solutions because they are "dangerous" and "become a strong chemical that is used as bleach."
Again, it's good to remember that, per both WHO and CDC, there is no known treatment for the new coronavirus at this time. As CDC states, "There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for" treating a SARS-CoV2 infection, which is also known as COVID-19. CDC says, "People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions."
Myth 3: The new coronavirus is man-made
When news of SARS-CoV2 first broke last December, it wasn't long before people began connecting the virus to a supposed covert biological warfare program run by the Chinese government.
One theory claims that a lab run by the Chinese government, called the Wuhan Institute of Virology, created SARS-CoV2 as a potential bioweapon, and that the virus somehow escaped from the lab and ultimately infected people in Wuhan. In another version of the myth, people suggest Canadian researchers created the virus and then sold it to China. These rumors have all been fueled by China's history of secrecy and lack of transparency on public health matters.
However, public health experts from around the globe say there's no actual evidence to support those theories, and that initial research into the virus suggests it occurred naturally from animals, similar to the progression of the coronaviruses SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. As WHO explained, "Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people."
In fact, a group of 27 public health scientists in a statement published this month in The Lancet explained that multiple analyses have found SARS-CoV2 "originated in wildlife." They added, "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that [SARS-CoV2] does not have a natural origin."
CDC states that SARS-CoV2, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, can be traced back to bats, and many of the first patients in Wuhan had a link to a large seafood and live animal market. However, researchers have yet to identify the exact animal that led to the first human case. For instance, in the case of SARS-CoV, WHO says research has shown the virus jumped from an unknown animal, such as bats, to others like civet cats, which led to the first human infections.
Myth 4: Pets can become infected with and spread the new coronavirus
While researchers believe that SARS-CoV2 originated in animals, both CDC and WHO say there is no evidence suggesting that companion animals, such as dogs and cats, can be a source of infection for humans.
However, both CDC and WHO caution that you should continue to wash your hands after contact with pets or animals to prevent the general spread of bacteria. CDC also notes that, if you are infected with SARS-CoV2, you should avoid contact with pets as you would other humans, as an extra precaution.
Myth 5: The new coronavirus is 'the most dangerous virus' and 'a death sentence'
The final myth we'll address here is that the new coronavirus is "the most dangerous virus," and that contracting the virus amounts to "a death sentence."
Currently, discrepancies in how different countries report individual cases and determine how contagious the virus is makes it hard to determine a precise global case count, let alone an accurate mortality rate. For example, in China, officials in the Hubei province have reported cases of the virus that weren't confirmed by lab tests but that providers had diagnosed by other means, such as a patient's symptoms and CT scan results. Meanwhile, other countries—such as the United States—are reporting only cases that have been confirmed by lab tests, while some are reporting both confirmed and suspected cases.
All of this means experts don't yet have a clear picture of how deadly SARS-CoV2 is when compared with other viruses. That said, research published Monday in JAMA suggests the mortality rate for SARS-CoV2 currently is around 2%—though researchers noted that rate fluctuates based on patient population. For instance, the case fatality rate was 0% among children ages 9 and younger, 8% among patients ages 70 to 79, and 14.8% for patients over age 80.
But while the case fatality rate may fluctuate by age group, the overall average of around 2% makes the virus—at least for now—far less deadly than others—like SARS-CoV, which WHO estimates has an average case fatality rate of 15%, and Ebola, which has an average case fatality rate of about 50%.
How to combat coronavirus misinformation
It's important that we take emerging infectious diseases seriously and take precautions to protect ourselves. However, it's also vital that we understand the facts about new viruses and ensure we're not spreading misinformation that cause people to be overly fearful.
Social media companies are trying to do their part by removing content that contains unproven information about the new coronavirus, and public health experts are pushing resources that dispel myths and highlight facts about the new virus. You, too, can take action by ensuring you're using reliable sources for information regarding the virus, sharing factual resources, and flagging misinformation when you see it.