CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories, Myths And Misinformation, Debunked

Mar 4, 2020, 7:19 AM | Updated: 7:22 am
As the novel coronavirus -- and panic about the coronavirus -- continues to spread around the world...
As the novel coronavirus -- and panic about the coronavirus -- continues to spread around the world, so too are bogus claims, conspiracy theories and misinformation about the disease. (Alberto Mier/CNN)
(Alberto Mier/CNN)

(CNN) – As the novel coronavirus — and panic about COVID-19 — continues to spread around the world, so too are the coronavirus conspiracy theories, bogus claims and misinformation about the disease.

There’s so much inaccurate information floating around out there that the World Health Organization is calling it an “infodemic.” In perhaps the clearest sign of the times, WHO has joined TikTok to help set the record straight.

The myths exist both on the fringes of the internet and in more mainstream outlets. And while social media platforms are now taking steps to elevate credible information and remove content that could confuse people, they’re fighting an uphill battle. Meanwhile, censorship and government mistrust in some countries have created a petri dish for misinformation to spread.

Here’s the truth about the new coronavirus.

Myth: Coronavirus is man-made

Reality: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

As the coronavirus outbreak turned into a full-fledged public health crisis, a fringe theory about the virus’ origins started to take hold on the internet: that the virus didn’t come from nature, but had instead been created in a lab.

The rumors, which originated from unverified social media accounts and weren’t supported by any credible evidence, got more elaborate as time went on.

One version popularized outside China suggested that a Chinese lab had been secretly working on a bioweapon that got leaked. Another that gained traction among nationalistic parts of the Chinese social mediasphere suggested that the virus originated in the US — and that many Americans thought to have died of the flu this season were actually killed by COVID-19.

Scientists in both China and the West have widely dismissed these theories, though that hasn’t stopped them from spreading. Experts are still trying to figure out the exact source of the virus, but research indicates that it likely originated in bats and was transmitted to an intermediate host before jumping to people — just like its cousin that caused the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Myth: Home remedies can cure or prevent the virus

Reality: Garlic is good for you. So is water. And vitamin C. But despite what some corners of social media would have you believe, there’s no evidence from the outbreak that eating garlic, sipping water every 15 minutes or taking vitamin C will protect people from the new coronavirus. Same goes for using essential oils, colloidal silver and steroids.

Some posts have suggested that putting sesame oil on your body or spraying yourself with alcohol or chlorine will kill the virus. That’s also false.

There are some chemical disinfectants, including bleach, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and chloroform, that may kill the virus on surfaces. But if the virus is already in your body, putting those substances on your skin or under your nose won’t kill it — and can actually be dangerous.

And this should go without saying, but please, please, do not ingest chemical disinfectants either.

There’s currently no cure for the novel coronavirus. And while research is underway, it could be more than a year before a vaccine becomes available.

The best way to protect yourself right now is to do what you would every cold and flu season. Stay at least three feet away from anyone who may be infected. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue that you throw away immediately after. And disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.

If you have symptoms that feel worse than a common cold, seek treatment early.

Myth: You need to get a mask

Reality: People who are well do not need to wear face masks, according to the CDC.

In fact, warns US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, face masks might actually increase your risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly.

Face masks should instead be worn by those who have the new coronavirus and are showing symptoms in order to protect others from being infected.

The other people who really need to wear masks are health care workers and people caring for someone infected with the virus in close settings, according to the CDC.

Buying up face masks and respirators when you feel fine will only make the shortage and the resulting price-gouging worse. That puts the health care workers who really need them, along with their communities, at risk.

Myth: Heat can kill the virus

Reality: Hand dryers can’t kill the virus, according to WHO. The organization also says that UV lamps shouldn’t be used to sterilize hands or other areas of the body because the radiation can irritate skin.

President Donald Trump has previously suggested that heat kills the virus and that because of this, the current outbreak will have dissipated by spring.

But public health experts say there’s no way to know this.

Myth: The virus can be transmitted through mail

Reality: Feel free to check your mail.

Getting a letter or package from China won’t put you at risk of contracting the virus, according to WHO.

Researchers are still studying exactly how the new coronavirus infects people, but judging by previous coronaviruses, it doesn’t stay alive for long on objects and surfaces.

Myth: Kids can’t get the coronavirus

Reality: Anyone of any age can get the new coronavirus, though older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions appear to be more vulnerable to serious infections.

While most confirmed cases of the virus have occurred in adults, children have been infected too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Myth: People who get the coronavirus will die

Reality: The death rate for the virus is around 3.4%, but officials say that number is expected to fall.

People who get coronavirus will typically get sick with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache and a fever that can last for a couple of days. Most of the time, symptoms will go away on their own.

The disease can be fatal but those cases are rarer.

For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young, there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis.

Given that thousands of people have been infected and authorities are still struggling to contain the virus though, even a 3.4% mortality rate is worrisome.

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Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories, Myths And Misinformation, Debunked