These past few weeks you’ve probably been overwhelmed by pretty scary images and reports about the ongoing pandemic, so I totally wouldn’t blame you if you never wanted to hear the word “coronavirus” again. But there is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s important to know how to spot it.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that newspapers and media outlets have played a big part in how people have been reacting to what’s been going on in the world. False information has always been a big problem, but in this case it can literally mean the difference between life and death, so you need to be careful about what sources you trust.
There have been a lot of claims about what you can do to keep yourself safe, and it’s useful to have a look at these misconceptions. But before we do that, we need to understand the structure of the virus that’s going around.
The word “coronavirus” comes from the Latin word “corona” (meaning crown) and the English word “virus” (meaning, er, virus). If you look at the virus at a microscopic level, you’ll see the little crown-like spikes that give it its name.
The virus is made up of a few important parts: ribonucleic acid (RNA), lipids, and proteins.
RNA is a tangled mess of an acid that carries the genetic information of the virus which tells it how to behave.
Lipids are fats which help the cell bond with the surfaces it meets.
And proteins are not like the protein your local gym-bro uses to beef up, but more like building blocks that help the virus duplicate and spread.
All together, they form the coronavirus which causes an illness called Covid-19. It’s infected almost two million people and killed over a hundred thousand people across the world.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common myths about it:
Only antibacterial soap destroys the virus
Washing our hands is one of the few things we know for sure helps keep us safe. The coronavirus spreads through droplets people cough out, so if you touch something that an infected person has coughed on, you’re likely to get infected if you then touch your face.
But one myth that has been going around is that only antibacterial soap destroys the virus.
As we mentioned before, the coronavirus has a layer of fat around it that protects the genetic information inside it. What’s one common thing we know that destroys fats?
That’s right, soap!
Soap destroys that layer of fat in the coronavirus and rips the particle apart. Just about any soap will do this — bar, antibacterial, even dishwashing soap.
If you want to see the best way to wash your hands effectively, watch this video by the World Health Organization below:
Young people aren’t at risk of getting Covid-19
One of the biggest misconceptions about this virus is that only old people get it, and that if you don’t have symptoms, you’re not sick. This myth started due to the fact that in many countries, only people with symptoms were tested for the virus. Because most of these people happened to be older, people just drew a (wrong) conclusion that only older people were the ones being affected.
But South Korea, which has tested every age group regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, found that it’s people aged 20-29 who are most likely to have the virus.
So while it’s true that getting infected doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up really sick, just because you’re younger doesn’t mean you won’t get infected at all.
It’s less dangerous than the flu
Around 80% of Covid-19 cases are generally pretty harmless, and only a small number of people will have severe infections if they get it.
But still, we shouldn’t underestimate Covid-19. The biggest difference between it and the flu is that this coronavirus is new. The flu has a flu vaccine that protects people who would otherwise die from getting it, but we don’t have any kind of treatment for this new virus.
Even people who end up in the hospital with the virus and are confirmed to have it aren’t treated for the virus itself — doctors can only treat the symptoms the virus creates, like pneumonia and fevers.
We also don’t know what long-term effects the virus can have. Some studies have shown that Covid-19 may affect fertility in men, and that it can leave recovered patients with organ damage even after they’ve recovered. In some Asian countries, people who recovered are even getting reinfected.
So we definitely can’t compare these two illnesses. Until we have a vaccine for Covid-19, we’re all still at risk of getting it.
Masks don’t keep you safer
This myth might be especially confusing, since even health professionals can’t reach a unanimous decision on this. Some medics say that wearing a mask doesn’t stop you getting sick. Most masks don’t have heavy-duty filtration systems, and are made of materials that won’t stop infectious droplets from spreading.
But even though they won’t keep you 100% safe, there is evidence that wearing a mask still slows the spread of the virus. So the idea of masks not helping may actually not be entirely true.
Vitamin C can help protect you
Vitamin C is known to boost the immune system, so some hospitals began using it to treat Covid-19 patients. But is it an effective treatment, or a good way to protect yourself?
This is actually still unclear.
Dr Andrew Weber, a critical-care specialist affiliated to Northwell Health (New York’s largest healthcare provider) said that patients who were given vitamin C did better than those who weren’t, and that it reduced their hospital time.
But Peter McCaffery, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, says that taking large amounts of vitamin C is ineffective because it only eases some of the symptoms of Covid-19 but doesn’t guarantee your recovery, and that a vaccine is still the only way to eliminate this disease.
So there you have it!
These are only a few of the many misconceptions that are out there, so from this point forward it’s up to you to find out what’s true and what isn’t. Ask yourself: Who wrote this? Are they a reliable publication? What are their sources on this? Is their information politically motivated?
The best sources of information are official sites like nhs.uk and gov.uk, your local GP, peer-reviewed medical articles and studies, or any kind of outlet that has to fact-check its information before it goes to print.
Animated GIFS by Veronica Sofia Nitu