15 coronavirus myths busted
Do face masks stop you getting COVID-19? Can gargling vinegar ‘flush out’ the virus? And does it only kill older people? Experts debunk the most common coronavirus misconceptions.
With the world gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, myriad claims abound about everything from prevention to cures and transmission.
Accurate and reliable information is crucial to ensuring that people can keep as safe and healthy as possible during the COVID-19 outbreak.
These are some of the most common coronavirus myths, debunked with the help of hard evidence provided by health experts.
Myth 1: Mosquitoes can carry coronavirus
The World Health Organisation says there is no evidence to suggest mosquitoes can transmit the coronavirus.
The virus is spread primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.
Myth 2: The flu shot (or antibiotics or a pneumonia vaccine) will protect me from coronavirus
None of these measures will work against coronavirus, as it is so different and new that it requires its own vaccine.
Antibiotics only work against bacteria and not against a virus such as COVID-19. However Australians are being urged to get a flu shot to lower the chances of getting both illnesses at the same time, and to avoid over-burdening hospitals already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
- Prevention: Why you should definitely get a flu shot in 2020
Myth 3: Gargling warm water, salt or vinegar will flush coronavirus out of your throat
This claim has been circulating on social media, but there is no evidence to suggest it is true.
According to John Hopkins Center for Health Security senior scholar Dr Amesh Adalja: “While it is true that coronavirus can cause a sore throat and gargling with warm water may make it feel better, it has no direct effect on the virus.”
Myth 4: A coronavirus vaccine could be ready in a few months
Scientists around the world – including in Australia – are racing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, but it is still likely to be 12 to 18 months away. Scientists are also looking at various potential treatments to help patients with coronavirus.
- Cold or coronavirus? How to tell the difference
Myth 5: Coronavirus only kills old people
While older people and those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes, compromised immune systems and heart disease are more vulnerable to getting severely ill with coronavirus, the World Health Organisation says it can affect people of all ages.
Myth 6: A face mask will protect against coronavirus
Current advice from the Australian Department of Health is that you do not need to wear a face mask to protect yourself against coronavirus, and this is backed by leading medical research institution Johns Hopkins University.
WHO says masks should only be worn by people who are sick with symptoms of coronavirus, such as cough or fever, or by medical professionals. It says if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are caring for someone with a case of coronavirus.
Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using hand sanitiser if soap and water is unavailable, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that may have germs and avoiding close contact with sick people are the most effective preventative measures against coronavirus.
- Best defence: How to wash your hands properly
Myth 7: Coronavirus is no more dangerous than flu
According to WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza”.
About 3.4 per cent of coronavirus cases globally have died, while flu kills “far fewer than 1 per cent of those infected”, he told a briefing in March.
Myth 8: Drinking lemon juice (or eating garlic) will stop you getting the virus
While there may be some natural ways to boost immunity in general, a panel of Australian public health and infections disease experts has backed WHO in saying these methods will neither stop you from contracting, nor treat, coronavirus.
- Immune boosters: Foods that can help kickstart your defences
Myth 9: Hot and humid climates kill the virus
You can catch COVID-19 anywhere in the world, regardless of the weather, says WHO.
Countries with hot and humid climates are among the more than 180 regions to have reported cases of infection.
Myth 10: Hand dryers kill the virus
Using a hand dryer does not kill the virus on its own. In fact, NSW Health says it may actually increase the risk of spread if used on hands that have not been cleaned properly.
Again, the most effective way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or use hand sanitiser) and dry your hands thoroughly.
Myth 11: Spraying alcohol or chlorine over your body kills the virus
While these substances can be effective in disinfecting surfaces, they cannot kill viruses that have already entered the body.
Myth 12: Hand sanitiser is not as effective as soap and water
Australian health experts says that both soap and water, and sanitiser, break the virus particles apart – but in different ways.
The most important factor is how thoroughly and how often you wash your hands.
Myth 13: A hot bath will prevent coronavirus
Taking a bath will not prevent you from catching coronavirus, says WHO. The only effective way to protect yourself is by frequently cleaning your hands.
Myth 14: Pets can be infected with coronavirus
While coronavirus is believed have originated from an animal source, Australian health officials say it is now spreading mainly from person to person and there is no evidence that animals are a source of infection.
There have been no reported cases of pets or animals in Australia becoming sick from the disease.
Overseas, a few dogs and cats have reportedly become infected after close contact with contagious people – but Hong Kong authorities found that pets cannot pass the virus to humans. A tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at a US zoo, but is believed to have been infected by an employee who had not been showing symptoms.
- Coronavirus anxiety: How to look after your mental health during lockdowns
Myth 15: An ultraviolet disinfection lamp can kill coronavirus on hands
WHO says UV lamps should not be used to sterilise hands or other areas of the skin. Additionally UV radiation can also cause skin irritation.
Where to get essential coronavirus information
If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.
Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.
Information, news and government guidance on COVID-19 changes regularly. For the latest official health and government advice, visit:
- World Health Organisation
- Australian Government coronavirus updates
- Federal and state/territory government sites:
Written by Tania Gomez.