Fact Check

Fact or Fiction? Debunking Common Coronavirus Myths

The flood of misinformation has prompted health experts and Silicon Valley alike to combat the "infodemic" with facts

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5G Networks? Bleach? Ultraviolet light?

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned countless conspiracy theories and misinformation on everything from what caused the outbreak to false cures and phony treatments.

The bogus claims often originate in the seedy underbelly of the internet and bubble to the surface via social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp. And as some theories make their way to mainstream media and even the White House, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

The flood of misinformation has prompted health experts and Silicon Valley alike to combat the "infodemic" with facts. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dedicated a page on their websites to fact-check coronavirus claims. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have introduced labels warning users of misinformation in posts with unverified claims about COVID-19 and linking them to "authoritative health resources."

Still, tech firms are struggling to limit the spread of coronavirus-related hoaxes, and misinformation continues to circulate.

Here are some of the most common myths debunked:

Should I Wear a Face Mask While Exercising?

As people head outside to enjoy the warm and sunny summer months, many wonder if it's necessary to wear a face mask while exercising.

According to the WHO, masks may reduce your ability to breathe, and therefore people should not wear them while running, biking, walking, and so on. Instead, you should try to maintain a safe distance from other people.

It's important to note, however, that exercising is the only circumstance in which a mask is not recommended. Health officials still encourage everyone sitting on the beach, eating at an outdoor restaurant or doing any other outdoor activity to wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet apart.

Can Eating Hot Peppers or Garlic Prevent a COVID-19 Infection?

No. But such dubious medical advice about how to avoid the novel coronavirus is among the more commonly shared on social media.

Garlic and hot peppers have many health benefits. Garlic can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and peppers can kickstart your metabolism and keep your gut healthy. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that consuming a bowl of hot garlic water or eating hot peppers prevents the coronavirus, the World Health Organization says.

Can Mosquitos or Horseflies Carry the Virus?

There is no evidence to support the claim that the virus spreads through horseflies and mosquitos.

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, according to the CDC. You can also become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

Can Bleach, Disinfectants or Other Chemicals Prevent or Cure the Virus?

Bleach and other chemicals used in disinfectants are poisonous and should not be injected or put in your body in any way, WHO warns. They will not kill the virus in your body, but they can harm your internal organs.

The makers of such household chemicals were compelled to urge the public not to consume its products after President Donald Trump suggested last month exploring disinfectants as a possible treatment for coronavirus infections — an extremely dangerous proposition that medical experts warn could kill people. According to health officials, calls to poison control centers for exposure to household cleaners spiked after the president's remarks.

However, using such substances to disinfect objects and surfaces, especially those you touch often, is recommended. Remember to keep chlorine (bleach) and other disinfectants out of reach of children.

Rob is back with more myths that have been spreading around the internet that are just plain wrong, and may actually do more harm than good.

Are 5G Towers Causing Coronavirus ?

The 5G conspiracy theory claims that emissions from the network’s antennas pose a serious health risk and may be linked to the spread of COVID-19 by weakening the human immune system. The belief has fueled attacks on dozens of mobile towers across Europe and in the U.K.

Like previous generations of cellular networks, 5G relies on transmissions from radio waves, which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. There have been fears that this radiation could have an impact on people’s health. However, the radio waves used for mobile networks are non-ionizing, meaning they don’t have enough energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules. Scientists agree that 5G is safe and cannot harm humans.

WHO also notes that viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks, as some conspiracy theorists have claimed on social media. Furthermore, COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have a 5G infrastructure.

Can Exposure to Extreme Temperatures Prevent or Cure COVID?

The White House claimed in April that "emerging" research shows the warmer, more humid weather that comes with spring and summer will diminish the threat of the virus.

Scientific advisers have told the White House there’s no good evidence yet that the heat and humidity of summer will rein in the virus without continued public health measures, including social distancing and mitigation.

According to WHO, you can catch COVID-19 no matter the weather. Countries with all kinds of climates have reported cases of COVID-19. This means that exposing yourself to extreme temperatures won't protect you from the virus. It also means the virus isn’t likely to go away with a change of seasons.

Can Ultraviolet Light Treat COVID-19 in Humans?

After William Bryan, the acting undersecretary of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, pointed to "emerging results" from new research that suggested solar light has a powerful effect in killing the virus on surfaces and in the air, President Trump mused about human treatments using ultraviolet or "just very powerful" light inside the body.

Experts have long warned of the dangers associated with exposure to UV radiation, a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds and sanitizing bulbs.

UV-A and UV-B rays come from the sun and tanning beds and can cause skin and eye damage, sunburns and are linked to skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The earth's atmosphere filters out the more harmful UV-C rays, which are capable of deactivating viruses and other pathogens by causing changes in their DNA. However, artificially-created UV-C light is commonly used to sterilize objects in hospitals and airplanes.

Bryan noted that the study hadn't looked at sunlight as a treatment for humans, and that the research was only for surfaces of objects and in the air.

The CDC and WHO advise that cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing your hands with soap and water are the most effective ways to remove the virus from the skin.

Spicy food won’t kill any viruses, why you shouldn't worry about getting infected by a fly and what hand dryers do and don't help with.

Does Catching COVID-19 Mean You'll Have the Virus for Life?

Most people who are infected with the virus can recover and eliminate the virus from their bodies. However, it is important to treat your symptoms if you have them, WHO says.

What will probably remain in your body are antibodies, which are proteins the body produces to help you fight an infection. They usually appear one to three weeks after exposure to the virus and experts believe could give some people protection if exposed to the same pathogen.

However, studies are still underway to determine what antibody level would be needed for immunity. It’s also not yet known how long any immunity might last. For now, the tests are most helpful for researchers trying to track how the virus spreads in communities.

Are People of Certain Ages More Vulnerable?

People of all ages can be infected by the coronavirus.

Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus, WHO reports.

Nursing homes have been a tinder box for infections throughout the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, saw the first major outbreak in the nation. Estimates now suggest that some 25% of the total deaths in New York, the nation's largest hotspot, have been among the nursing home population.

However, children are also impacted by the virus. Last week, the CDC issued a health alert on a virus-linked condition found in children called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C. Symptoms linked to MIS-C include a persistent fever, hypotension (low blood pressure) and elevated inflammatory markers, according to the CDC, which added that respiratory symptoms were not present in all cases. At least 17 states have reported cases of the syndrome.

WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, including following good hygiene.

Can I Take Anything to Prevent or Treat Coronavirus?

The short answer is no. There is no cure or treatment on the market for COVID-19, although several biotech companies across the globe are developing and testing some promising drugs and vaccines.

Malaria drugs pushed by President Trump as treatment for the coronavirus have not been found to be safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19. In fact, several studies, including one by the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health, found higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine while in Veterans Administration hospitals. 

The president and his allies have been touting hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure, and Trump announced he had been taking the malaria drug to try to ward off the virus —  despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.

Getting a pneumonia or flu vaccine will also not protect you from this virus, as some online theories have suggested. Neither will taking antibiotics, as they only work against bacteria and not viruses, according to WHO.

Claims online that drinking strong alcohol kills the virus, much like using hand sanitizer with high alcohol content kills it on our skin, are also not true. Public health experts warn that frequent and excessive drinking actually weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection.

Last month, the FDA announced a crackdown against companies selling products that have been falsely marketed as treatments for coronavirus. The agency sent letters to seven companies selling teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver warning their products are a "threat to the public health."

“We understand consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and urge them to talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness," said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn in a news release. "We will continue to aggressively pursue those that place the public health at risk and hold bad actors accountable.”

Is the Virus Man-Made?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, said it had ruled out the virus being man-made but was still investigating the precise source of the global pandemic, which has killed more than 330,000 people worldwide.

Still, President Trump has repeatedly suggested the virus was made in a lab in Wuhan, China, and claimed to have seen evidence to support the theory, appearing to undercut his own intelligence agencies.

While the precise source of COVID-19 remains a mystery, scientists have suggested that like many other coronaviruses, it was transmitted to humans from animals. Public health officials suspect that the current outbreak may have originated at a live-animal market in Wuhan, where dozens of workers were infected at the outset, but tests on samples from the area have been inconclusive, NBC News reports.

Looking for other resources to separate fact from fiction? Poynter has launched a chatbot tool for WhatsApp users to ask questions. Facebook is warning users who like posts with fake information, Instagram is directing users searching for coronavirus information to the WHO website and Twitter is working to verify more health officials' accounts. You can also check for updates on the CDC website and WHO website.

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