Pakistan is expected to be amongst the countries worst hit by the recent outbreak of the new Coronavirus, COVID-19. Community spread of COVID-19 has started in Pakistan, and the number of daily cases is spiking (as of March 26, the total number of confirmed cases had increased to 1,179, with 77 new cases in the past 24 hours (12 pm – 12 pm).
A key challenge in responding to significant disease outbreaks, especially of previously undocumented strains, is the lack of understanding of the disease as well as levels of public knowledge on the same. In an environment of sparse and incomplete information, it is often that misinformation, disinformation, and denial take hold in society at large.
At this time, and as the emergency situation is rapidly developing, it is absolutely crucial to provide accurate and reliable information to the general public, while at the same time, working to engage and contest mis-/disinformation. Here is a small effort in this vein. I have tried to note and contest ten significant myths around the Novel Coronavirus.
Myth: Coronavirus only affects old people
Reality: People of all ages can be affected by a coronavirus. Older people have greater difficulty in recovering from the disease. This may be because of frailty, less immune capacity, or a pre-existing condition. However, this does not mean that young people cannot get affected. People of all ages are susceptible and should take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others around them.
Myth: Coronavirus is necessarily fatal, and all affected die.
Reality: Coronavirus is not necessarily fatal. It is a severe disease, and some people need extensive medical care, including hospitalization. However, it does not always result in a fatality, especially if necessary medical care is provided. The effects are more severe on older people or people with pre-existing conditions. While it is difficult to be guaranteed at this time, just under four percent of affected persons may ultimately die. Of these, about 80% may be expected to be persons 60 years and older. This means that very significant segments of any given population do not face a clear and present danger of dying.
Myth: Coronavirus does not spread through handshakes, and advisories against hand-shaking are incorrect.
Reality: Coronavirus can spread through touch. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth or to someone you touch. From there, the virus can enter your or their body and can make a person sick. This will lead to rapid transmission and spread. Avoiding physical contact with other people and staying at least six feet away is essential and recommended.
Myth: A face mask is a necessity and guarantees protection against Coronavirus.
Reality: Yes, and no. Masks that tightly fit around a person’s face (such as the N95) can protect healthcare workers as they care for large numbers of infected patients. For the general public, especially persons without respiratory illnesses, wearing lightweight, disposable, surgical masks is not necessary or recommended. Since such masks don’t fit tightly, they may allow tiny infected droplets to get into the nose, mouth, or eyes. Further, people with the virus on their hands and who happen to touch their faces under a mask might become infected.
On the other hand, people with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others. Bear in mind that stocking up on masks makes fewer available for sick patients and health care workers who need them. Let’s all be responsible.
Myth: Closing public spaces such as mosques, restaurants, and cinemas, and imposing isolation will not stop Coronavirus spread.
Reality: Coronavirus spreads when people cough or sneeze, releasing tiny droplets of mucus and saliva into the air that contain the virus. These droplets can land on all types of surfaces, including tables, chairs, doors, light switches, et al. Besides, they can land on other people as well. If the droplets land or are breathed in by another person, they can cause infection. Similarly, if the droplets land on a hard surface and someone touches that hard surface, they can get infected in that way as well. Therefore, it is essential to minimize contact between people so that it slows down the spread of the virus. In this, closing places that bring together large numbers of people and hold them together in tight spaces can help keep people apart and reduce contagious spread. This is a standard public health practice and has continually been implemented around the globe in multiple contexts with relatively high success rates.
Myth: Eating garlic helps protect against Coronavirus.
Reality: Garlic is a healthy food that has anti-microbial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that suggests eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.
Myth: Hot liquids kill off Coronavirus and should be drunk frequently.
Reality: Staying hydrated is always essential, especially during infection, including novel coronavirus. However, there is no evidence to suggest that drinking hot or cold water (or gargling) prevents a possible coronavirus infection.
Myth: Taking a hot bath helps protect against COVID-19.
Reality: Taking a hot bath does not help protect against COVID-19. Actually, if people take this myth too far in their minds, taking a hot bath with boiling water can be harmful since it can burn you! The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands with soap and water; or, with hand sanitizers. By doing this, you would eliminate coronavirus that may be on your hands. In turn, this helps avoid infection that may occur if people touch their eyes, mouth, nose, or someone else.
Myth: Regularly rinsing your nose with saline water helps protect against Coronavirus.
Reality: There is no evidence from the current outbreak that suggests regularly rinsing one’s nose with saline water has protected people from infection of the novel coronavirus.
Myth: Taking steroids or acetic acid will help protect against Coronavirus.
Reality: There is no evidence from the current outbreak that suggests taking steroids or acetic acid will help protect against novel coronavirus.
Also Read: Busting myths about OCD
Behzad Taimur is a public health professional and social activist who works at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).