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Last updated July 3, 2020. 4 minute read

Top coronavirus myths—the 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 Dr. Tzvi Doron, DO

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease caused by the most recent strain of virus from the coronavirus family 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. That was the start of COVID-19.

MYTH: Coronavirus only affects older people

While older people may be more at risk of infection because their immune systems may not be as strong as those of younger adults, they’re far from the only group of people at risk, explains Dr. Patrick J. Kenney, DO, FACOI, who is double-board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. Several groups of people have an increased risk of infection, including those who are immunosuppressed.

MYTH: Recreational drugs cure coronavirus

Facebook posts have claimed that weed is a cure for coronavirus (False: Cannabis “Kills Coronavirus,” 2020). Rumors have said the same of cocaine. At this time, there is no cure for, or vaccine against, coronavirus (although testing of some medications is underway).

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, n.d.).

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, n.d.).

MYTH: Ultraviolet light can kill coronavirus

Exposing parts of your body to 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, n.d.).

MYTH: Air dryers can kill coronavirus

It currently isn’t known exactly how temperature affects the virus. People have wondered the same thing about warm weather as they have about air dryers. Although some similar viruses such as the common cold spread easier during colder months, the CDC notes that this doesn’t mean you cannot be infected by them during warmer months (2019-nCoV Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, 2020). 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, n.d.).

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. But there are common household cleaners that 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 do not treat viruses of any kind, including coronaviruses,” Dr. Kenney states unequivocally. Antibiotics target bacteria, not viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a virus.

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” (2019-nCoV Frequently Asked Questions, 2020).