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Last updated September 11, 2021. 5 minute read

Coronavirus myths: viral nature of misinformation

Rumors have spread rapidly about many aspects of the virus. Here’s the truth about these coronavirus myths about where the virus originated, who is at risk, how it’s transmitted, and contamination concerns.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Tzvi Doron, DO

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the most recent strain of coronavirus to infect humans. This family of viruses also includes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). They are called novel coronaviruses because it’s the first time these specific viruses have jumped from animals to humans.

Coronavirus myths, debunked

Rumors have spread rapidly about many aspects of the virus. Here’s the truth about these coronavirus myths about where the virus originated, who is at risk, how it’s transmitted, and contamination concerns.

MYTH: Coronavirus was formulated in a lab in Wuhan

Local health officials in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China reported several cases of pneumonia among a group of people linked to a wholesale market in Wuhan in December 2019. Scientists investigated the original cases and their history. Their data show that it a laboratory source of the novel coronavirus is unlikely. Likely sources include spread from an animal like bats or pangolins (scaly anteaters) or transmission through food (WHOa, 2021).

MYTH: Coronavirus only affects older people

While older people are more at risk of infection because their immune systems may not be as strong as those of younger adults, they’re not the only group of people at risk. People with weaker immune systems (such as people with cancer or people taking immunosuppressive medications), people with obesity, and people with chronic diseases such as heart or lung disease are also at increased risk of COVID-19. Even healthy people of all ages can COVID-19 and become seriously ill.

MYTH: Recreational drugs cure coronavirus

Social media posts have claimed that marijuana is a cure for coronavirus. Rumors have said the same about cocaine. While there is some evidence that marijuana can decrease inflammation, and inflammation is part of the problem in severe COVID-19, scientists don’t have enough data to determine if there is any benefit (Paland, 2021). Plus, research showed that people who used high amounts of recreational drugs and alcohol were less likely to follow rules for hygiene and social distancing (Fendrich, 2021). Recreational drugs are not a cure for COVID-19 but there is widespread availability of vaccines that can prevent infection and serious disease.

MYTH: Spraying chlorine/rubbing alcohol on your body can cure coronavirus

Rubbing or spraying cleaning products—whether that’s chlorine or rubbing alcohol—will not kill viruses already inside your body. Even worse, doing so may be harmful to your health. Chlorine may be used to clean surfaces in your home but should be kept away from your body (WHO, 2021b).

MYTH: Inhaling bleach fumes cures coronavirus

This is similar to the previous myth. Inhaling bleach fumes is dangerous and will not kill viruses that are already inside you. Bleach may also be used to clean surfaces in your home but should be kept away from the body (WHO, 2021b). Ingesting or inhaling chemicals can be deadly.

MYTH: Ultraviolet light can kill coronavirus

Exposing parts of your body to too much ultraviolet (UV) light can be dangerous. The UV radiation may cause skin irritation, so you should not use UV sterilization lamps on your hands or other parts of your skin (WHO, 2021b). Too much UV light is also linked to skin cancer and skin damage.

MYTH: Air dryers can kill coronavirus

Nobody knows exactly how temperature affects the virus, so there’s no evidence that warm air from a dryer will kill it. Although some viruses such as the common cold spread more rapidly during colder months, the CDC notes that this doesn’t mean you cannot be infected by them during warmer months (CDC, 2021a). The World Health Organization (WHO) says air dryers are not effective at killing the virus, and they advise that you still wash your hands using proper hand hygiene before drying them with an air dryer or paper towels (WHO, 2021b).

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in aerosols for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours (Doremalen, 2020). However, we don’t know how a warmer temperature would affect that timeline. Common household cleaners can inactivate the virus, and washing your hands following proper protocol can decrease your risk of infection.

MYTH: Antibiotics are effective at treating coronavirus

Antibiotics are not effective against COVID-19 because they target bacteria, not viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a virus (CDC, 2021b).

MYTH: Sesame oil and garlic can prevent transmission of coronavirus

While garlic has been shown to have some antimicrobial properties, neither garlic nor sesame oil will prevent the transmission of this virus.

MYTH: Regularly rinsing your nose with saline can prevent coronavirus

There is no evidence that rinsing your nose with saline can prevent coronavirus. But you can help reduce your risk of catching coronavirus by following proper hand hygiene before touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, all of which have mucosal linings where the virus may enter. Surfaces in your home can also be cleaned with 70% ethanol (alcohol) cleanser, which can be purchased commercially, or bleach or sodium hypochlorite solutions, all of which inactivate the virus.

MYTH: Drinking liquids will wash the virus into your stomach where it will die

While it is always a good idea to stay hydrated, it is definitely still possible to become infected even if you are drinking fluids. The fluids do not wash all of the virus particles into the stomach.

MYTH: You can diagnose yourself with COVID-19 by holding your breath

There is no evidence to suggest that being able to hold your breath is associated with whether or not you have COVID-19. If you think you might be sick, seek medical attention.

MYTH: It’s not safe to receive a package from China

It is, in fact, safe to accept packages that have been shipped from China. The CDC notes that there’s a low risk of infection from products that have been shipped from areas with outbreaks because of the virus’s “low survivability on surfaces” (CDC, 2021a).

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2019-nCoV Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. (2021a, September 8). Retrieved September 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021b, June 8). COVID-19 & Antibiotic Resistance. Retrieved September 11, 2021,from https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/covid19.html
  2. Doremalen, N. V., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B. N., … Munster, V. J. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine. doi: 10.1056/nejmc2004973, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32182409
  3. Fendrich, M., Becker, J., Park, C., Russell, B., Finkelstein-Fox, L., & Hutchison, M. (2021). Associations of alcohol, marijuana, and polysubstance use with non-adherence to COVID-19 public health guidelines in a US sample. Substance abuse42(2), 220–226. doi:10.1080/08897077.2021.1891603. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34010118/

    Paland, N., Pechkovsky, A., Aswad, M., Hamza, H., Popov, T., Shahar, E., & Louria-Hayon, I. (2021). The Immunopathology of COVID-19 and the Cannabis Paradigm. Frontiers in immunology12, 631233. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.631233. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7907157/
  4. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). (2020, February 23). Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

    World Health Organization (WHO). WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2:China, Joint WHO-China Study, 14 January-10 February 2021. (2021a). Retrieved September 11, 2021, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/who-convened-global-study-of-origins-of-sars-cov-2-china-part
  5. World Health Organization (WHO). Myth busters. (2021b, May 5). Retrieved September 11, 2021, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters