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Can garlic prevent Covid-19? The facts and myths


Covid-19: A guide to staying safe

With so much information online it can be hard to distinguish the facts from the myths

The Covid-19 outbreak has left a trail of destruction in its wake and everyone is looking for ways to protect themselves and their loved ones. In a world where most people run to social media for answers, it might be hard to get reliable information. From the use or ARVs as a cure to the favourite “Africans are immune” statements, DR NJENGA WACHIRA separates truth from untruth.

1. Covid-19 only kills the elderly, so younger people can relax: While being older puts you at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from Covid-19, younger people can also get severe disease and die. This is especially if they have other diseases like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and cancer.

2. A face mask will protect you from Covid-19: Although face masks can reduce transmission of the Covid-19 virus, not completely. This is because they are loose, they do not cover the eyes and do not have an air filter. A face mask protects the user’s nose and mouth from direct spray of large droplets and reduces hand-to-mouth/nose transmission. An N95 mask, which is usually used in laboratories and hospitals, is tighter fitting, filters about 95 per cent of airborne particles and, therefore, reduces exposure to smaller particles.

Face masks have to be discarded after several hours of use, and should not be cleaned or re-used. Reusing a face mask is a bit similar to reusing a sieve; at some point it does not work well anymore. The face mask also does not work well when it is damp, which is why it should not be cleaned, and should not be used beyond a few hours because of moisture from your breath.

Removal: At the time of removing the face mask, remove it from behind using the straps and avoid touching the front of the mask, then discard it appropriately, and clean your hands thoroughly.

If you are well, you do not need to use a mask, unless you are taking care of a sick person. For the one who is unwell, using a mask significantly reduces the chances of transmitting the infection.

3. The virus is man-made: There is no evidence so far that Covid-19 is man-made or that it is biological terrorism. The coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in many species of animals, which, rarely, may jump from an animal species to a human being and cause infection. For instance, the Sars virus came from Civet cats, the Mers virus came from dromedary camels and the Covid-19 animal source is still being investigated.

4. The virus cannot survive in tropical temperatures: Covid-19 is a novel virus, which means it was previously unknown until the current outbreak. Therefore, a lot of its qualities are still unknown. It has been shown that high temperatures and high humidity may reduce transmission of the virus. However, Australia, South America and Africa have all reported confirmed cases of Covid-19 despite the warmer temperatures at this time of year. In addition to climatic conditions, other factors that affect transmission include population density and the quality of medical care.

5. Everyone who get the coronavirus will die: No. An estimated 13 per cent of those who get Covid-19 do not get any symptoms and do not get sick at all. Of those who get symptoms, about 80 per cent get mild ones and recover within about 14 days. About 20 per cent of those who get symptoms develop severe disease, and most of these people also recover. The death rate from Covid-19 is about 3.4 per cent.

6. A vaccine to cure the disease is available: A vaccine to protect against Covid-19 is being developed, but is still going through the various development and trial phases before it can be approved for public use. This may take a year or so. However, a vaccine protects someone who has not had the disease from getting severe disease. It is not a cure and it does not mean that you can never get the disease. A vaccine provides your body with ammunition so that if you ever get exposed to the disease, your body is able to fight it.

7. People with pneumonia virus are safe from Covid-19: It is possible to have another infection and still get Covid-19, including other viral infections.

8. Eating garlic can protect people against the coronavirus: There is no evidence that taking garlic, ginger or lemon or other herbal remedies can protect you from Covid-19. The only way to prevent the infection is by avoiding exposure to the virus. These are used commonly in home and traditional remedies, especially against the common cold and other diseases. While garlic is known to have health benefits, most are not well proven by research and there are no studies on the benefits with Covid-19 infection.

9. Covid-19 can be treated with antibiotics: No. Antibiotics work against bacteria. Covid-19 is a virus. Therefore, antibiotics are not effective against it. However, when you have a severe viral respiratory infection, you are at risk of getting a bacterial infection on top of the viral one. So, in patients with severe Covid-19 disease, antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat a secondary bacterial infection.

10. Pets can spread the virus: In Hong Kong, one dog was diagnosed with Covid-19, most likely having got the virus from a human being, but so far there has been no evidence that pets can transmit the virus. However, the possible animal source of Covid-19 has not yet been confirmed.

11. The virus is just a mutated form of the common cold: The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually affecting the nose, throat, sinuses or voice box. There are about 200 types of viruses that can potentially cause a common cold, though the most common are rhinoviruses. Covid-19 is a virus from the coronavirus family that can cause mild disease, but also severe respiratory disease and death, which is why it has been given the name Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (Sars-Cov 2).

12. Children cannot contract coronavirus: Children can and have been infected with Covid-19. Preliminary reports from China show that most children have been getting mild disease, though some get severe disease and one 14-year-old is reported to have died in China.

13. Vitamin C supplements or fruits will stop you from getting infected: Vitamin C cannot prevent you from getting Covid-19 or any other viral disease, but it helps your body’s immunity to fight the infection once you have it. To prevent Covid-19 infection, avoid exposure to the virus where you can, wash your hands regularly and maintain good health, with healthy diet, take enough water, exercise, adequate sleep, stress management and avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption.

14. It is not safe to receive a package from China: The likelihood that the virus will survive packaging, storage, and movement through different environmental conditions is low. However, you can disinfect packages before handling them and clean your hands after handling any packages.

15. The virus cannot survive on surfaces or can only survive on surfaces for a few hours: The Covid-19 can survive on a surface for several hours to several days, depending on the type of surface and environmental conditions. The virus is thought to last longer on harder surfaces. It has been found to last for up to three hours in aerosols, four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. To be safe, clean surfaces with hypochlorite (jik) solution or disinfectant and clean your hands regularly. High-touch surfaces (such as phones, keyboards, doorknobs, TV remotes, light-switches, tables and toilets) should be cleaned daily. And wash your hands regularly.

16. Africans are immune to coronavirus: Africans are not immune to Covid-19 as is evidenced by global, continental and local confirmed cases, with evidence of local transmission. The relatively smaller number of cases on the continent may be attributed to significantly lower numbers of international travel in comparison with the rest of the globe; and lower diagnostic capability in most of the continent.

17. Flu shots help prevent Covid-19: Flu shots specifically target the influenza virus and are not useful against Covid-19, which is a completely different kind of virus. Development of a Covid-19 vaccine is underway, though it may take a while to reach the market. However, existing vaccines are still useful to protect from other diseases.

18. Cold weather can kill the virus: Cold weather cannot kill the virus. The outbreak started and has had the highest spread in countries that are going through winter. Most importantly, the virus lives and multiplies in the human body, which is normal between 36 and 37 degrees Celsius.

19. ARVs can treat Covid-19: So far, no cure has been found against the disease. However, some antiviral medication that are being investigated for use against the virus include Lopinavir, Ritonavir, Favipiravir and Remdesivir, though on March 18 a trial of kaletra (Lopinavir/Ritonavir) was reported to have failed.

20. Drinking hard liquor can prevent or treat Covid-19: Ingested highly concentrated alcohol cannot prevent or kill the virus, but it can definitely harm you. On March 10, at least 44 people died in Iran from alcohol poisoning and many others were hospitalised after taking bootleg alcohol while trying to treat the virus. For the purposes of the Covid-19 outbreak, alcohol is useful as a disinfectant, either for cleaning surfaces or in use as a hand rub.

21. Spraying alcohol or chlorine on the body can protect you against the disease: You get infected with Covid-19 if infected droplets come into contact with your eyes, nose or mouth. Spraying the surface of your body cannot clear what is already inside the body. It is more likely to cause irritation of the skin and mucus membranes or destroy clothes. Chlorine and alcohol are useful for disinfecting surfaces.

22. HIV-infected people on ARVs cannot get the illness: Unfortunately, so far, there is no data on Covid-19 infection in the HIV positive. However, if you are HIV infected and you have low immunity due to a low CD4 count, or if you are failing treatment or if you are not on ARVs, you immunity may be compromised, possibly putting you at a higher risk of severe disease. Also, no ARVs have been found to be effective against Covid-19 so far, so the ARVs for HIV will not protect you. This is because the drugs used for antiretroviral therapy in HIV were mostly developed to target the HIV specifically and the different stages of its lifecycle in the human body. HIV and Covid-19 are very different viruses. So, protect yourself through social distancing and hand hygiene. If you suspect you have the Covid-19 infection, seek medical attention.

23. Thermal scanners can detect Covid-19 infected people: Thermal scanners are able to pick out anybody who has a fever at the time of the scan. However, it takes an average of five days (two to 14 days, in some cases 21 days) from the time of infection to when symptoms start. This means that someone may have Covid-19 and not be detected by a thermal scanner because he/she does not have a fever at that time. Someone may also take a drug to lower their temperature before being scanned. However, people who do not have symptoms can still spread the infection.


Dr Wachira is a medical doctor