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14 coronavirus myths busted by science

Woman wears a facemask on a bus.
(Image: © blackCAT/Getty Images)

As the novel coronavirus continues to infect people around the world, news articles and social media posts about the outbreak continue to spread online. Unfortunately, this relentless flood of information can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction — and during a viral outbreak, rumors and misinformation can be dangerous.

Here at Live Science, we've compiled a list of the most pervasive myths about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, the disease it causes, and explained why these rumors are misleading, or just plain wrong. 

Myth: The virus is just a mutated form of the common cold

No, it's not. Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that includes many different diseases. SARS-CoV-2 does share similarities with other coronaviruses, four of which can cause the common cold. All five viruses have spiky projections on their surfaces and utilize so-called spike proteins to infect host cells. However, the four cold coronaviruses — named 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 — all utilize humans as their primary hosts. SARS-CoV-2 shares about 90% of its genetic material with coronaviruses that infect bats, which suggests that the virus originated in bats and later hopped to humans

Evidence suggests that the virus passed through an intermediate animal before infecting humans. Similarly, the SARS virus jumped from bats to civets (small, nocturnal mammals) on its way into people, whereas MERS infected camels before spreading to humans.

Myth: The virus was probably made in a lab

No evidence suggests that the virus is man-made. SARS-CoV-2 closely resembles two other coronaviruses that have triggered outbreaks in recent decades, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and all three viruses seem to have originated in bats. In short, the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 fall in line with what we know about other naturally occurring coronaviruses that made the jump from animals to people.

A study published March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine also provided strong evidence against the "engineered in a lab" idea. The study found that a key part of SARS-CoV-2, known as the spike protein, would almost certainly have emerged in nature and not as a lab creation, Live Science previously reported. What's more, if scientists were trying to use computer models to engineer a deadly virus based on the original SARS virus, they likely would not have chosen the mutations that actually appear in SARS-CoV-2. That's because computer simulations show that mutations in SARS-CoV-2 don't seem to work very well at helping the virus bind to human cells, Live Science previously reported. But it turns out, nature is smarter than scientists, and the novel coronavirus found a way to mutate that was better — and completely different— from anything scientists could have predicted or created, the study found.  

Myth: Pets can spread the new coronavirus

Although pets may contract COVID-19 in rare cases, there is no evidence they can spread it to people.

There have been a few reports of cats and dogs that became infected with COVID-19 after contact with their sick owner. For example, in April, two pet cats in New York tested positive for COVID-19, and the owner of one of these cats was confirmed to have COVID-19 before the cat showed symptoms, Live Science previously reported.

Even if pets do occasionally become infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is no evidence that they are playing a significant role in the spread of the virus. And so far, there have been no confirmed reports of people contracting the disease from pets.

Just in case, the CDC recommends that people with COVID-19 have someone else walk and care for their companion animals while they are sick. And people should always wash their hands after snuggling with animals anyway, as companion pets can spread other diseases to people, according to the CDC. 

Myth: Kids can't catch the coronavirus

Children can definitely catch COVID-19, although reports of serious illness in children are rare.

A CDC study of more than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. from January through May found that the rate of confirmed infections in children under age 9 was 52 cases per 100,000 people in that population of children; that’s compared with an average of 400 cases (of any age) per 100,000 people in the U.S. population as a whole.

Another CDC study found that among 52,000 reported COVID-19 deaths from February through May, just 16 deaths were reported in people under age 18.

 Still, not all children are spared from COVID-19. In rare cases, children with a current or previous COVID-19 infection have developed so-called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). Symptoms of this syndrome can vary, but patients seem to have symptoms similar to those found in two rare conditions: toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, Live Science previously reported. Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening condition that's caused by toxins produced by certain types of bacteria; Kawasaki disease is a childhood illness that causes inflammation in blood vessel walls, and in serious cases can cause heart damage.

In a study published June 29 in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers described 186 cases of MIS-C in 26 states. Of these, nearly 90% required hospitalization, 80% were admitted to the intensive care unit and 2% died, the authors reported.

Myth: If you have coronavirus, "you'll know"

No, you won't. COVID-19 causes a wide range of symptoms, many of which appear in other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and the common cold. Specifically, common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, headache, sore throat, muscle or body aches, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, the disease can progress into a serious pneumonia-like illness — but early on, infected people may show no symptoms at all.

And some people never develop symptoms. Exactly how common asymptomatic cases are is still being determined, although the CDC estimates it may be around 40% of cases.

If you have underlying conditions and milder symptoms of the disease, you should seek medical attention at the nearest hospital, experts told Live Science.  

Myth: The coronavirus is less deadly than the flu

Though the death rate for COVID-19 is unclear, almost all credible research suggests it is much higher than that of the seasonal flu, which has a death rate of around 0.1% in the U.S., Live Science previously reported.

Among reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., about 4% have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This is what's known as the case fatality rate, which is determined by dividing the number of deaths by the total number of confirmed cases. But the case fatality rate is limited for a few reasons. First, not everyone with COVID-19 is being diagnosed with the disease — this is in part due to testing limitations in the U.S. and the fact that people who experience mild or moderate symptoms may not seek out testing. As the number of confirmed cases goes up, the fatality rate may decrease.

Many studies estimate that around 0.5% to 1% of people infected with COVID-19 will die from the disease, according to Nature News. Even a death rate around 1% is still 10 times higher than that of the flu.

It's also important to note that estimates of flu illnesses and deaths from the CDC are just that — estimates (which make certain assumptions) rather than raw numbers. (The CDC does not know the exact number of people who become sick with or die from the flu each year in the U.S. Rather, this number is estimated based on data collected on flu hospitalizations through surveillance in 13 states.) Researchers emphasized this point in a recent paper published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, describing how they found that, in the U.S., there were 20 times more deaths per week from COVID-19 than from the flu in the deadliest week of an average influenza season, Live Science previously reported.

Myth: Vitamin C supplements will stop you from catching COVID-19 

Researchers have yet to find any evidence that vitamin C supplements can render people immune to COVID-19 infection. In fact, for most people, taking extra vitamin C does not even ward off the common cold, though it may shorten the duration of a cold if you catch one. 

That said, vitamin C serves essential roles in the human body and supports normal immune function. As an antioxidant, the vitamin neutralizes charged particles called free radicals that can damage tissues in the body. It also helps the body synthesize hormones, build collagen and seal off vulnerable connective tissue against pathogens. 

So yes, vitamin C should absolutely be included in your daily diet if you want to maintain a healthy immune system. But megadosing on supplements is unlikely to lower your risk of catching COVID-19, and may at most give you a "modest" advantage against the virus, should you become infected. No evidence suggests that other so-called immune-boosting supplements — such as zinc, green tea or echinacea — help to prevent COVID-19, either. 

Be wary of products being advertised as treatments or cures for the new coronavirus. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have already issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent products that promise to cure, treat or prevent the viral infection. 

Myth: It's not safe to receive a package from China

It is safe to receive letters or packages from China, according to the World Health Organization. Previous research has found that coronaviruses don't survive long on objects such as letters and packages. Based on what we know about similar coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, experts think this new coronavirus likely survives poorly on surfaces. 

A past study found that these related coronaviruses can stay on surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic for as long as nine days, according to a study published Feb. 6 in The Journal of Hospital Infection. But the surfaces present in packaging are not ideal for the virus to survive.

For a virus to remain viable, it needs a combination of specific environmental conditions such as temperature, lack of UV exposure and humidity — a combination you won't get in shipping packages, according to Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who spoke with Live Science's sister site Tom's Hardware.

And so "there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," according to the CDC. "Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods, and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods." Rather, the coronavirus is thought to be most commonly spread through respiratory droplets.

Myth: You can get the coronavirus if you eat at Chinese restaurants in the US

No, you can't. By that logic, you'd also have to avoid Italian, Korean, Japanese and Iranian restaurants, given that those countries have also been facing an outbreak. The new coronavirus doesn't just affect people of Chinese descent.

Myth: Drinking bleach or other disinfectants can protect you from COVID-19

You absolutely should not drink bleach or other household disinfectants, and you should also not spray them on your body. These substances are poisonous if ingested, and they can also cause damage to the skin and eyes, according to the World Health Organization.

When ingested, sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) can cause what is called "liquefactive necrosis," or a process that results in the transformation of tissue into a liquid viscous mass, Live Science previously reported. The bleach can also damage cells as the sodium reacts with proteins and fats in a person's tissues in a process called saponification (soap), medical doctors reported in 2018 in a publication by the Emergency Medicine Residents' Association.

Alarmingly, nearly 4 in 10 American adults in a recent survey reported engaging in dangerous cleaning practices to prevent COVID-19, such as washing food with bleach, using household disinfecting products on their skin or intentionally inhaling vapors from cleaning products, Live Science previously reported.

Myth: Drinking alcohol and eating garlic can protect you from COVID-19

Consuming certain foods, such as alcohol or garlic, will not protect you from the new coronavirus. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers work to disinfect your skin, alcohol does not have this effect on your body when it is ingested, according to WHO. Indeed, heavy use of alcohol can actually weaken your immune system and reduce your body's ability to cope with infectious diseases. And although garlic may have some antimicrobial properties, there is no evidence that it can protect against COVID-19, WHO says.

Myth: 5G networks can spread the new coronavirus

5G networks transferring mobile data across cities.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, cannot travel on or transmit through radio waves or mobile networks such as 5G networks, according to WHO. The new coronavirus is spread mainly through respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, as well as through contaminated surfaces. WHO also notes that COVID-19 has been spreading in countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.

Myth: Exposure to high temperatures prevents COVID-19

Exposing yourself to the sun or warm temperatures will not protect you against COVID-19, according to WHO. You can still catch the disease no matter how hot it is — indeed, the virus is spreading even in areas with very hot weather, such as Arizona. Taking a hot bath will also not prevent COVID-19, WHO says.

Myth: Wearing masks can cause CO2 poisoning 

In a new visualization, researchers simulated a cough, which appears as a glowing green vapor flowing from a mannequin's mouth. The visualizations shows that face masks dramatically reduce the spread of cough droplet particles, from 12 feet without a mask to just a few inches with a mask. Homemade cloth masks (top) and cone-style masks (bottom) worked the best at reducing droplet spread, although there was some leakage at the top of the mask in each case.

In a new visualization, researchers simulated a cough, which appears as a glowing green vapor flowing from a mannequin's mouth. The visualizations shows that face masks dramatically reduce the spread of cough droplet particles, from 12 feet without a mask to just a few inches with a mask.  (Image credit: Florida Atlantic University, College of Engineering and Computer Science)

Wearing medical masks for long periods may be uncomfortable for some, but it does not cause oxygen deficiency or carbon dioxide (CO2) intoxication (when too much CO2 builds up in the bloodstream), according to WHO. The same applies for N95 masks and cloth face coverings, according to Healthline

"Rebreathing tiny amounts of CO2 from wearing either properly fitted N95 respirators or more loosely fitted cloth or surgical masks is of no concern for the vast, vast majority of people," Darrell Spurlock Jr., the director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University in Pennsylvania, told Healthline. "The 'dose' of CO2 we might rebreathe while masking is quickly and easily eliminated by both the respiratory and metabolic systems in the body."

When you wear a mask, you should make sure it has a snug fit but allows you to breathe normally, WHO says.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflected updated knowledge on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in children. 

Tia Ghose, Yasemin Saplakoglu, Nicoletta Lanese, Rachael Rettner and Jeanna Bryner contributed to this article.

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • PH Deb
    Regarding #2 "
    Myth: You're waaaay less likely to get this than the flu
    Not necessarily. "

    I disagree with the way this is said. At least in most places, you ARE way more likely to get the flu. Although the coronavirus has a higher R0, it is not circulating widely in the United States and most countries. And not only is the flu potentially deadly, illness can last a very long time and cause disability and interruption of your life/career. So people should be taking the flu seriously and get a flu shot. Especially since it could be devastating to get both viruses at the same time.
    Reply
  • ACD421
    admin said:
    There's plenty of nonsense about the coronavirus online. Here are some of the biggest COVID-19 myths out there and the science to explain why they aren't true.

    12 Coronavirus myths busted by science : Read more
    To correct you a dog has tested positive in the last week of one of the infecteds owners. So you might want to correct that. Misinformation is bad.
    Reply
  • deegee
    PH Deb said:
    Regarding #2 "
    Myth: You're waaaay less likely to get this than the flu
    Not necessarily. "

    I disagree with the way this is said. At least in most places, you ARE way more likely to get the flu. Although the coronavirus has a higher R0, it is not circulating widely in the United States and most countries. And not only is the flu potentially deadly, illness can last a very long time and cause disability and interruption of your life/career. So people should be taking the flu seriously and get a flu shot. Especially since it could be devastating to get both viruses at the same time.
    How would anyone know ? They have tested 14,000 people in S Korea in one day, and yet to date the US has only 450 testing kits.By the time they do get enough kits how far will it have spread ?? Ridiculous statement !!
    Reply
  • ACD421
    deegee said:
    How would anyone know ? They have tested 14,000 people in S Korea in one day, and yet to date the US has only 450 testing kits.By the time they do get enough kits how far will it have spread ?? Ridiculous statement !!
    Fun Fact the Flu and Coronavirus can be confused for each other as they have almost identical symptoms the only true distinguishing factor is the horrendous forms viral pneumonia that they both cause but by then you are already hospitalized. GG China won.
    Reply
  • ACD421
    deegee said:
    How would anyone know ? They have tested 14,000 people in S Korea in one day, and yet to date the US has only 450 testing kits.By the time they do get enough kits how far will it have spread ?? Ridiculous statement !!
    Where did you get this lovely 450 testing kits btw? Do you even know how the medical field tests this virus? Lmao it's more about how many they have processed as testing is easy just long as to the way they do it which has about a 3 day turn around even in a rush with RNA testing. That's a saliva or blood test send off to CDC. The viral pneumonia it causes is so unique that the can actually diagnose you faster if it's at that stage with a simple x-ray.
    Reply
  • LouiseL
    The article says: ”Previous research has found that coronaviruses don't survive long on objects such as letters and packages.”

    But viruses, according to many scholarly definitions, are non-living organisms that replicate inside living cells. A non-living organism can’t be killed., though they can be stopped from replicating. That’s part of the problem with viruses and why the diseases they cause can’t easily be treated.. It’s a completey different process from killing a bacterial infection. Bacteria are living organisms that can be killed.. As example, tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria. Small pox, measles, mumps, chicken pox, herpes, AIDS, and shingles are some diseases that are caused by viruses. Viral diseases are difficult or impossible to treat effectively. They can be prevented, however, by a vaccine.

    Viruses are not made out of cells, they can't keep themselves in a stable state, they don't grow, and they can't make their own energy. Even though they definitely replicate and adapt to their environment, viruses are more like androids than real living organisms.”
    https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/cells/viruses/a/are-viruses-dead-or-alive”
    Reply
  • ACD421
    LouiseL said:
    The article says: ”Previous research has found that coronaviruses don't survive long on objects such as letters and packages.”

    But viruses, according to many scholarly definitions, are non-living organisms that replicate inside living cells. A non-living organism can’t be killed., though they can be stopped from replicating. That’s part of the problem with viruses and why the diseases they cause can’t easily be treated.. It’s a completey different process from killing a bacterial infection. Bacteria are living organisms that can be killed.. As example, tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria. Small pox, measles, mumps, chicken pox, herpes, AIDS, and shingles are some diseases that are caused by viruses. Viral diseases are difficult or impossible to treat effectively. They can be prevented, however, by a vaccine.

    Viruses are not made out of cells, they can't keep themselves in a stable state, they don't grow, and they can't make their own energy. Even though they definitely replicate and adapt to their environment, viruses are more like androids than real living organisms.”
    https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/cells/viruses/a/are-viruses-dead-or-alive”
    Firstly, 9 days is still a hell of a long time. Secondly, if you know of bacteriophages then you know viruses can survive longer on inanimate objects if bacteria is on them. Considering the wide range of bacteria in the very air around us at any given time good and bad they could feed and live a lot longer in the right conditions. There are viral robots that eat bacteria. But again they are biological machines. Therefore they are very much alive. Until they aren't. Khanacademy is okay but I wouldn't put that much stock in a link from them as my proof.
    Reply
  • yaknala
    If this report is correct, then why is there under 3,00 deaths from SARS2 and over 79,000 from flu world wide figures?
    The infection RO is still holding at 2.2 that means around 1 - 4 people can be infected from each person with the virus.
    The main reason for all this hype and news about SARS 2 is, it has an incubation period of up to 14 days, where the flu shows within 24 hours.
    Why no "Warnings" about the way the flu has killed and infected many more people that this virus?
    Even with a vaccine for flu, no vaccine for SARS 2 Yet, as testing has only just started earlier this week?
    Reply
  • LouiseL
    ACD421 said:
    Firstly, 9 days is still a hell of a long time. Secondly, if you know of bacteriophages then you know viruses can survive longer on inanimate objects if bacteria is on them. Considering the wide range of bacteria in the very air around us at any given time good and bad they could feed and live a lot longer in the right conditions. There are viral robots that eat bacteria. But again they are biological machines. Therefore they are very much alive. Until they aren't. Khanacademy is okay but I wouldn't put that much stock in a link from them as my proof.

    How about this from https://microbiologysociety.org/publication/past-issues/what-is-life/article/are-viruses-alive-what-is-life.html
    “No, viruses are not alive.”
    or this from http://www.virology.ws/2004/06/09/are-viruses-living/:

    “Viruses are not living things. Viruses are complicated assemblies of molecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, but on their own they can do nothing until they enter a living cell. Without cells, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.”
    Reply
  • ACD421
    LouiseL said:
    How about this from https://microbiologysociety.org/publication/past-issues/what-is-life/article/are-viruses-alive-what-is-life.html
    “No, viruses are not alive.”
    or this from http://www.virology.ws/2004/06/09/are-viruses-living/:

    “Viruses are not living things. Viruses are complicated assemblies of molecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, but on their own they can do nothing until they enter a living cell. Without cells, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.”
    You used something from 2004 and a duality argument paper in which scientists argue both sides. Bacteriophages exist in the air and water around the world, in your body and on all organic surfaces. These papers only prove the point they are alive and without a host they would die. Much like a bacterial seed or a parasite. Just because it is parasitic in nature doesn't mean it's not alive. There is a spark of life once certain conditions are met. When a sperm and egg meet life starts. Much like organics and a virus. To say a sperm or an egg would also be incorrect. I love wherever you got your degree. I will assume it is stamped by Google. Or better yet Khan Academy.

    https://m.phys.org/news/2015-09-evidence-viruses-alive.html
    Here is something more recent stay woke my friend.

    😂😂😂😂😂😂
    Reply