The official death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has now passed 8,312, with infections reported in 156 countries around the world.
Understandably, people are desperate for answers. And, as such, many have been turning to the internet for advice on how best to handle the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has since warned that a global epidemic of misinformation – spreading rapidly through social media platforms and other outlets –poses a serious problem for public health.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as reported by The Guardian.
It is for this reason that the NHS has teamed up with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to tackle the spread of coronavirus misinformation, with social media sites are now directing UK users to the official NHS website if they search for coronavirus.
Despite these measures, though, unhelpful and often dangerous claims about the virus continue to be shared widely across the internet.
And so, in a bid to arm you with the health facts you actually need, we here at Stylist have debunked the most enduring coronavirus myths for you.
Myth: vitamin C supplements will stop you from caching Covid-19
Researchers have yet to find any evidence that vitamin C supplements can render people immune to COVID-19 infection. In fact, an analysis of 29 studies including 11,306 participants has concluded that supplementing with 200 mg or more of vitamin C doesn’t even reduce the risk of catching a cold.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. Indeed, vitamin C serves essential roles in the human body and supports normal immune function. Plus, it also has been shown to reduce cold symptoms, too, so it may help with your aches and pains.
Myth: you can test yourself for Covid-19 by holding your breath.
A viral email chain claims that, if you “take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, etc., it proves there is no Fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection.”
Facts: There’s no evidence to suggest this is a valid test for Covid-19. Indeed, a spokesperson for Stanford University, which has been widely cited as the source for this dubious myth, has since disputed the claim on Twitter.
“Misinformation about Covid-19 symptoms and treatment falsely attributed to Stanford is circulating on social media and in email forwards. It is not from Stanford,” they tweeted from the institution’s official social media account.
Elsewhere, Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Hospital in Boston, has informed ABC News: “That is absolutely not the way that fibrosis is diagnosed. This is diagnosed by a pulmonary doctor. This is also not the way to diagnose an infection.”
The NHS recommends seeking medical advice by phone or online if you develop the main symptoms of Covid-19 – fever, cough and shortness of breath – and have been in contact with someone who has the disease, or have recently traveled to an area experiencing a spread of the virus.
You can find out more about coronavirus symptoms and diagnosis here.
Myth: if you “take a few sips of water every 15 minutes at least,” you will kill the virus
The same viral email chain mentioned above claims that “everyone should ensure your mouth & throat are moist, never dry.”
It continues: “Take a few sips of water every 15 minutes at least. Why? Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids will wash them down through your throat and into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will kill all the virus.”
Facts: There is no current scientific evidence behind the claim that keeping your mouth moist will prevent infection with coronavirus.
“While staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus infection,” notes WHO.
Do pour yourself a glass of water, though, as staying hydrated can help keep your immune system strong. Plus, our bodies always require more water when we are running a fever.
Myth: if you have a runny nose, you probably just have the common cold
“If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold,” reads the viral email chain from not-Stanford.
“Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.”
Facts: Sorry, folks. While the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are “fever, tiredness, and dry cough,” according to WHO, some patients do have “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.” Some who are infected don’t show any symptoms.
So, if you feel unwell for any reason, do yourself and everyone around you a favour and take precautions to avoid infecting others.
Myth: warm weather will kill off the coronavirus
President Donald Trump has been putting about the theory that warmer spring weather in the northern hemisphere may slow or even stop the spread of the disease.
“The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,” he said, with all the assured authority of a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert.
Facts: Researcher Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia told New Scientist: “One extreme scenario is that it will burn itself out sometime in the summer. The other extreme scenario is that it will reduce in the summer but it will come back again in the winter and become what we call endemic, in that it will spread pretty much everywhere.”
David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the global response to the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003, added: “These viruses can certainly spread during high temperature seasons.”
Myth: chlorine dioxide – a chemical found in bleach – can wipe out the coronavirus
YouTube creator Jordan Sather claimed in a tweet that chlorine dioxide can wipe out the coronavirus.
“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year,” he wrote. “Big Pharma wants you ignorant.”
His tweet has been shared over 2.9K times and counting.
Facts: drinking bleach isn’t just stupid – it’s incredibly dangerous, too. Indeed, the NHS lists bleach as a poison on its official page.
“If you suspect that someone has taken an overdose or has been poisoned, don’t try to treat them yourself. Get medical help immediately,” they advise.
Myth: cocaine can kill the coronavirus
A few weeks ago, someone tweeted a doctored image of a news broadcast which said that cocaine kills the coronavirus. It proved a popular conspiracy theory, garnering over 2,800 retweets and 5,500 likes before it was removed from the social media platform.
Facts: We’ll let the French government handle this one.
“No, cocaine does not protect against COVID-19,” a tweet from the French ministry of health reads. “Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug. Using it can seriously harm people’s health and create undesirable effects.”
Myth: coronavirus can be cured by “one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water”
A Facebook health page, in a post which has been shared over 40 times since its publication, has claimed that coronavirus can be “cured by one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water.”
“Take eight cloves of chopped garlic. add seven cups of water and bring to boil,” it reads. “Eat and drink the boiled garlic water, overnight improvement and healing.”
Facts: the WHO states that “garlic is a healthy food which may have some antimicrobial properties”.
However, they add that “there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.”
As previously reported, the NHS has teamed up with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to tackle the spread of coronavirus misinformation. However, it’s up to you to interrogate what you’re reading and ensure that you are not taking baseless claims at facxe value.
In the meantime, here are 22 tweets you should be sharing in the fight against the Covid-19 infodemic. And please feel free to read and share our article on ’The truth behind the coronavirus headlines’, too.
Remember: if you think you might have coronavirus, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do.
This article was originally published on 16 March.
Lead image design: Alessia Armenise