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10 coronavirus myths busted by a doctor

10 coronavirus myths busted by a doctor
(Image credit: Getty)

When the coronavirus pandemic first erupted across the globe, we knew precious little about this new disease. Fast forward several months and we are much more aware of how the coronavirus spreads and how long it lives on items and surfaces. We also know how hand washing and wearing face masks, either fabric or reusable face masks, help slow the spread.

Search online for ‘coronavirus facts’, however, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Many healthcare professionals have been taking to social media platforms like TikTok to correct this misinformation. 

Health organizations including the CDC have also been working double-time to ensure the public has the correct coronavirus guidelines and facts.

Debunking common coronavirus myths
Common coronavirus myths include how hand sanitizer is more effective than washing with soap, or how cleaning with a vinegar-based solution can kill the virus. Both are incorrect. Perhaps the biggest one of all is that the virus doesn’t exist. Tragically, the 920,000+ deaths we have seen globally would argue with that. 

Fabric face masks hanging on a washing line

(Image credit: Getty)

To separate fact from fiction, Dr Gero Baiarda, a registered GP with doctor-on-demand service GPDQ, has rounded-up some of the most common COVID-19 myths and explains not only how they’re incorrect, but the measures you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

For more doctor-based advice, also read our guide to coronavirus symptoms vs seasonal allergies.

Myth 1: The virus is a living organism we can kill

“It is not alive," clarifies Dr Baiarda. "It is a protein chain of RNA within a protective layer of fat. Since the virus is a protein super molecule rather than a living organism, you cannot kill it. It will, however, decay spontaneously given enough time. 

“The time it takes to break down depends on the environmental temperature, humidity and type of material upon which it settles.”

Myth 2: COVID-19 is a hardy virus

“It isn’t. COVID-19 is surprisingly fragile. The only protection it has is a thin outer layer of lipid or fat. That is why any soap or detergent (both of which break down fat) will destroy it. By dissolving the external lipid layer of the virus, the virus is rendered inert and unable to penetrate human cells. Hence why washing hands often with soap and water is so important.”

The CDC recommends regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water to help slow the spread. Key times to wash your hands include:

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Before touching your face
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • After leaving a public place
  • After handling your mask

Myth 3: Alcohol-based sanitizer with 60% alcohol is just as effective as soap and water

“Wrong. Squirting a little bit of alcohol gel on your palms and rubbing them together is not effective. You need to cover the entire surface of both hands, including fingers and thumbs, but this should be done only after the hands are free of any residues - such as after sneezing. 

"The small nozzle on bottles of sanitizer are part of the problem, as people assume a small amount is ample."

Washing your hands regularly with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds at a time, is the best hand hygiene method. Hand sanitizer will tide you over when you're away from a sink, but wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you are able.

Myth 4: People are most contagious before they know they have COVID-19

“This is untrue. Infected cells are invaded and destroyed by the virus, allowing millions of new viruses to burst forth and be shed on surfaces or passed to other people. Spread is effective in coughed droplets. Patients who are asymptomatic can, however, pass on the virus as soon as they are infected.” 

According to WHO's coronavirus overview, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include a dry cough, fatigue and a fever. The most accurate way to tell if you have a fever is by taking your temperature. We've rounded up the best digital thermometers to help you take fast and accurate temperature readings.

The WHO states the following as less common symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • a rash on skin, or discoloration of fingers or toes

Myth 5: If delivery drivers wear gloves, they won't spread the virus

“Wrong. Every item a gloved hand touches can then be contaminated. According to a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine, the virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard. To stay safe, the best advice is not to touch the parcel until ideally the following day.”

That same study showed that the coronavirus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic, up to 48 hours on stainless steel, and up to four hours on copper. 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Bharat Pankhania, Clinical Lecturer at the University of Exeter, said that, "your mindset needs to be that everything, everyone, everywhere is contaminated. And whatever you handle is a potential risk.”

A person moisturizers their hands with hand cream

(Image credit: Moose Photos at Pexels)

Myth 6: Moisturizing your hands after washing reduces cleanliness

“Wrong. Moisturizing the skin is very important. The virus can lodge itself in damaged skin on your hands cracked by repeated washing, so it’s important to try to avoid this. Keeping fingernails short will reduce the risk of sheltering and passing on the virus too.” 

Myth 7: COVID-19 can’t be passed on by food

“It can be transferred easily. If someone who has the virus on their hands touches food, it is very likely to become contaminated for many hours. To denature and inactivate the virus, food should either be washed or cooked at 65 degrees celsius at least for four minutes or more.” 

Myth 8: Vinegar keeps rooms free of the virus

“Vinegar will not work against COVID-19 and is not advised. The cleaning of bathrooms, kitchens and surfaces is still best carried out with hot water from the tap and a surface detergent as you have always done. 

"If you have a case of COVID-19 in your house and want to disinfect common areas, use a dilution of household bleach or hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic.”

A recent study showed that beds are potential COVID-19 hotspots, so here's how to clean your bed properly.

(Image credit: Getty)

Myth 9: Washing hands isn’t as important when self-isolating, as you’re all virus-free

“Wrong. If there are any external items (shopping, deliveries, and so on) entering your home, hand washing remains important. Every time you wash your hands you break the chain of infection. If in doubt, give them a wash. 

"Do this for at least 20 seconds with soapy water, and if you have paper towels that you can throw away, this is better than using a communal towel. If using towels, dedicate one towel to each person in the house and keep them separate.”

The CDC recently issued laundry instructions to make your washing safer from COVID-19, including how to disinfect your laundry and why it's an important measure for your household.

Myth 10: Drinking alcohol prevents people getting the virus 

“This is not true. The only alcohol that will help to prevent the spread of the SARS-COV-2 is that in hand sanitizer. This is only for external use, and even then, it is only effective if it has a concentration of 60% or above, if you use enough, and in the right way.” 

An illustration showing how to social distance

(Image credit: Getty)

How to help slow the spread

In addition to good hand hygiene, you should continue social distancing (physical distancing) when mixing with people outside of your household. That means staying at least six feet (roughly two arms’ length) from others, both in outdoor and indoor spaces.

Face masks do work when it comes to helping to slow the spread, and the CDC recommends wearing face masks in both indoor and outdoor situations where you are mixing with people outside of your household. Here are other scenarios where you should wear a face mask:

  • When using public transport
  • When shopping in stores
  • When you are displaying symptoms suggestive of the coronavirus
  • When you are caring for someone who has COVID-19
  • In areas where virus transmission is active

The WHO advises medical masks for people aged 60 and over, and for people who are living with someone who has COVID-19.

Remember, face masks should not be worn by children younger than two years old, or by any person who has trouble breathing, or who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove their face mask without help.

Looking for more health content? Take a look at our guide to the best fitness trackers designed to help you stay active and boost your health, or the best treadmills for walking or running indoors. Need help with insurance? We've also reviewed the best health insurance and best Medicare Part D plans for prescription drugs costs.