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Explainer: Nine common coronavirus myths

Wednesday March 18 2020

A security officer wearing a protective face mask poses for a picture at the entrance of the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital.

A security officer wearing a protective face mask poses for a picture at the entrance of the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 15, 2020. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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As the new coronavirus continues to ravage the world, you have likely been hit with a barrage of information about the disease since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

As with any pandemic and global phenomenon, there is a lot of information ranging from the absurd to outright laughable, along with myths about the virus that are now widespread.

So what is true and what’s false? Here are some common misconceptions versus the reality.

1. High temperatures prevent infection

•There is currently no evidence that people in areas experiencing hot and humid weather cannot contract the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

•People in such areas, including the tropics, are as likely to be infected as those in other areas. As recent cases on the continent have proved, black people are not immune to coronavirus infection.

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•The human body maintains its normal temperature of between 36.5° and 37° Celsius irrespective of the external temperature and weather.

• Taking a hot bath doesn’t kill the virus either.

2. Cold temperatures kill the virus

•Cold temperatures and snow cannot destroy the virus.

•The virus would still survive in the human body as environmental factors do not affect the body temperature.

3. Covid-19 affects only older people

•While older people are at greater risk owing to weakened immunity, there’s no evidence to show that younger, healthy people cannot be infected. Currently, all demographics are affected by the virus across the world.

The mortality rate, however, is higher among older persons.

• WHO says people with diabetes, asthma and heart diseases are at higher risk of infection.

4. Mosquito bites can cause infection

•Covid-19 is a respiratory disease that’s chiefly caused by saliva or mucus droplets resulting from a cough or sneeze from an infected person. Mosquitoes cannot transmit the virus.

5. Face masks can protect you against infection

Have you been wearing a mask since the virus broke out? Well, according to US health officials, a face mask does little to protect you from infection.

This is according to an infectious diseases expert at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, who says that masks are not recommended for the general public if they don't suffer from a respiratory illness.

•However, some respirators such as N95 are effective in protecting health workers dealing with infected patients.

•If the masks fit loosely, they may permit droplets to get into your nose and eyes, thus infecting you.

•People with respiratory infections are required to wear masks to avoid infecting others.

6. Goods shipped from China can infect you

•This is false.

•Research has shown that the virus doesn’t survive for very long periods on open surfaces.

•Findings from a new research, however, indicate that the virus may survive on steel and copper surfaces for up to two days.

•Shipping tends to takes longer than this, and the virus is likely to have died by the time the goods arrive at the destination.

7. The virus was created and released by humans

•This has been one of the conspiracy theories around the novel virus. It got a new lease of life after a Chinese official recently made a similar claim.

•Viruses change state over time. The host determines the form that the virus takes, and hence its viability.

•Scientists believe that the virus may have originated from bats before jumping to humans via an intermediate host.

•Research is still ongoing to establish how the virus came into being.

8. A vaccine against Coronavirus exists
•This is untrue. Scientists around the world are currently working against the clock to produce vaccines against Covid-19.

•Successfully developing a vaccine that will be effective in human beings could take months, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

•Multinationals and businesspeople such as Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have pledged to donate billions to go into research for a vaccine against the disease.

9. Use of antibiotics

•Antibiotics do not treat viral infections and should not be used as a means of treatment or prevention, the World Health Organisation says.

•Patients suffering from the virus may be given antibiotics to prevent bacterial co-infection.