Myths and misinformation about COVID-19 may be spreading as rapidly as the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself. An infodemic is vying with the medical pandemic for public attention—not surprising for a disease brand-new to the world—and poses unique challenges for clinicians trying to help their patients sort fact from fancy. Here are a dozen persistent COVID-19 myths and how you can put them to rest.
MYTH: COVID-19 is just like the flu.
FACT: Both the flu and COVID-19 are caused by viruses that attack the respiratory system, but they are not caused by the same virus. The human influenza A and B viruses are responsible for the seasonal flu epidemics, whereas SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus, causes COVID-19. As such, flu vaccines will not protect against COVID-19. COVID-19 is more infectious than flu, with a higher rate of severe disease, hospitalization and death in all age groups with the possible exception of children under 12 years of age.
In 2020, COVID-19 has killed more people in the U.S. than influenza has in the past five influenza seasons combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms that linger past recovery, such as weakness, shortness of breath and, in some cases, kidney and heart problems, are also much more common with COVID-19 than with flu.
MYTH: Only older people get sick and die from COVID-19.
FACT: It’s true that people over 65—especially those with underlying conditions like heart and lung diseases or diabetes—are at high risk for complications, hospitalization and death related to COVID-19. Further, the elderly account for more than 75 percent of COVID-related deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC, but more than 20 percent of deaths occur in people ages 25 to 64. In fact, of all the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., two thirds of those affected are younger than 50, and one in five who’ve tested positive are young adults in their 20s.
MYTH: Children can’t contract the novel coronavirus.
FACT: From March 1 to September 19, 2020, the CDC reported more than a quarter of a million laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in school-aged children (ages 5 to 17) in the U.S. Of these, 3,240 were hospitalized, 404 were admitted to an intensive care unit and 51 died. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association are jointly tracking COVID-19 cases in children of all ages in the U.S. By October 29, 2020, their national count had exceeded 853,000, representing 11.1 percent of all cases and more than 1 percent of all children.
CDC is also tracking a rare but potentially fatal complication of COVID-19 known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). More than 1,100 cases and 20 deaths have been reported, mostly in children 1 to 14 years of age.
MYTH: Masks aren’t necessary.
FACT: The World Health Organization (WHO) states that masks “are a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives. Masks reduce potential exposure risk from an infected person whether they have symptoms or not. People wearing masks are protected from getting infected. Masks also prevent onward transmission when worn by a person who is infected.” The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle forecasts that 95 percent mask use in public could save nearly 130,000 lives in the U.S. from September 22, 2020 through February 28, 2021.
MYTH: Face masks can reduce oxygen, and increase carbon dioxide, intake.
FACT: Masks may at times be uncomfortable, but they do not cause oxygen deficiency or CO2 intoxication, according to the WHO. Both oxygen and CO2 readily pass through a cloth or medical face mask. In fact, a recently published study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society contradicts the idea that masks are linked to carbon dioxide overexposure, even in those with lung disease.
MYTH: Silver supplements can cure COVID-19.
FACT: There is literally no silver bullet for COVID-19. In July, a Utah man was indicted by a federal grand jury for posing as a doctor to promote and sell ingestible silver products as a cure for COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called it “a baseless treatment.” Federal agencies have also gone to court in Oklahoma to stop a company from promoting silver products as a cure for COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns that colloidal silver—tiny particles of silver suspended in liquid—, often promoted as a diet supplement have not demonstrated health benefits and can cause a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin.
MYTH: Warmer weather slows the spread of the virus.
FACT: COVID-19 can spread in sunny, hot and humid climates. Brazil, for example, has counted more than 5.5 million cases and 160,000 deaths. Researchers believe that climate, or seasonality, is not likely to become a factor in disease transmission until a large proportion of a population has gained immunity through vaccination or infection. Cold weather, however, can increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by driving people indoors into crowded spaces with less than optimal ventilation.
MYTH: Mosquitoes can transmit COVID-19.
FACT: There is no evidence that mosquitoes—or ticks or houseflies—can transmit the novel coronavirus, national and international health agencies affirm. COVID-19 typically spreads person to person, primarily through virus-containing respiratory droplets or aerosols.
MYTH: Disinfectants, applied to the skin or taken internally, can kill the virus.
FACT: Disinfectants are meant to be used on surfaces to destroy germs, including the COVID-19 virus, but those surfaces do not include the skin of the human body. Nor should disinfectants be injected or swallowed. Such products are toxic to humans.
MYTH: Simple household remedies can prevent or treat COVID-19.
FACT: The list of supposed preventatives or cures includes rinsing your nose with saline, taking vitamin C, drinking alcohol, eating garlic, gargling with warm salt water or vinegar or using mouthwash. There is no conclusive evidence to support any of these as effective interventions for preventing or treating COVID-19, experts say. Vitamin and mineral supplements can support the immune system but won’t prevent or cure COVID-19. Recent laboratory studies have discovered some virus-killing properties in mouthwash, but more research is needed.
MYTH: 5G networks play a role in spreading the pandemic.
FACT: When we say that diseases are communicable, we do not mean that they spread through radio waves or mobile networks. The claim that 5G networks are fueling the pandemic has been called “the worst kind of fake news” and “complete rubbish” by leading scientists in the U.K., where arsonists set fire to more than 70 cell phone towers. Truth is, the virus is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.
MYTH: The pandemic virus was engineered in a lab in Wuhan, China.
FACT: After rumors to this effect swirled around the nation’s capital and gained traction, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a statement saying that “the Intelligence Community … concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.” The most likely explanation at present is that the virus evolved naturally and jumped from bats to humans, possibly via an intermediate animal.