Amid increasingly vague reporting, growing concerns about SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, known commonly as the coronavirus, illustrate the importance of understanding the facts. Our guide contains information about the symptoms of COVID-19, how to protect against it and a short explanation dispelling common myths about the disease.
Symptoms of the Coronavirus
While the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild, because it is in the coronavirus family which contains many other strains of flu, COVID-19 will initially present with flu-like symptoms. These flu-like symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
Generally, these symptoms will present between 2–14 days after coming into contact with the virus. If left untreated, these symptoms could become unmanageable and require hospitalization, so testing is recommended as early as possible.
In mild cases, fever may not be present — especially in younger people — so it’s important to be tested even if you do not have a fever.
Once someone believes that they may have COVID-19, they should contact a doctor immediately so that a laboratory test can be conducted to determine whether the illness is COVID-19 or a case of the flu.
COVID-19 Prevention Measures
Like other viruses in the coronavirus family, COVID-19 spreads most easily through person-to-person contact, primarily through the transfer of respiratory droplets.
A much rarer way that COVID-19 may spread is through a patient touching their eyes, nose or mouth after touching an infected surface. It is possible that COVID-19 may survive on surfaces for up to several days. For these reasons, the CDC and WHO have issued the following prevention measures for healthy individuals to avoid infection:
- Avoid touching the areas around the eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid areas where large groups frequently gather.
- Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces with a cleaning spray or wipe, especially your phone.
- Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Stay at least six feet away from anyone who appears sick.
- Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Stay home when possible and quarantine yourself when sick.
In addition to taking ordinary measures to prevent COVID-19, there are also certain risk factors to be aware of. The majority of coronavirus deaths have been individuals who have compromised immune systems. This includes chemotherapy recipients, elderly citizens and individuals who have chronic diseases.
Although it may be comforting to believe that “only” elderly and chronically ill people are at serious risk, this places an important responsibility on those who are at a lower risk. Even if an individual is unlikely to die from COVID-19, they are still able to spread the disease. According to the CDC, 87% of cases are mild. This means that individuals who may have a mild case of the coronavirus should still stay home from work and avoid coming into contact with at-risk individuals. Some examples of at-risk individuals include:
- Individuals above the age of 60
- Individuals with high blood pressure
- Individuals with diabetes
- Patients who have a prolonged history of using “noninvasive ventilation”
In addition to these factors, location can also increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. Nursing home residents or individuals living in highly-communal living spaces may find themselves at higher risk of infection as the disease may spread quickly in the confined space.
Busting Coronavirus Myths
With so much anxiety around the COVID-19 outbreak, many people have searched for solutions and prevention methods outside of those that the CDC and WHO have recommended. While extra precautions are commendable, there have been some individuals who have unwittingly spread some myths about the coronavirus that may cause more harm than good. Below are some common myths and explanations of the truth.
Drinking alcohol can kill COVID-19 infection.
The alcohol mentioned by the CDC and WHO was in reference to rubbing alcohols or hand sanitizers with an alcohol content in excess of 60%. Consuming alcohol will not cure COVID-19 infections.
Spraying chlorine or alcohol on skin kills viruses in the body.
Chlorine and rubbing alcohol are useful in disinfecting surfaces and objects. Application of these chemicals on the skin or any other exterior part of the body is harmful and ineffective.
Only older adults and young people are at risk / Children cannot catch the coronavirus.
While the risk of death is elevated for individuals who are very old, COVID-19 can infect anyone.
The coronavirus is just like the flu.
COVID-19 is a virus from the same family as the seasonal flu, but its rate of infection and mortality rate have been estimated to be many times higher than the seasonal flu.
Everyone with COVID-19 dies.
Not everyone who contracts the coronavirus will die. The CDC estimates that approximately 87% of cases are mild and mortality estimates range between 1%-3%.
Cats and dogs can spread the virus.
Currently, only one dog has been reported to have contracted COVID-19. This infection came from the owner and it did not display any symptoms. Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom Jonathan Ball said: “I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels of the virus. The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”
Face masks protect against COVID-19.
Although disease control workers use professional face masks, these masks fit tightly around the face to protect them against infection. Disposable face masks do not fit neatly against the face and therefore droplets can still enter the mouth and nose. Disposable masks can help those who are infected prevent the spread of the disease by covering their mouth and nose and making the transfer of particles more difficult. N95 masks are recommended, although they are currently in a shortage.
Hand dryers can kill the virus.
COVID-19 cannot be prevented through the use of hand dryers. Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol can prevent infection.
COVID-19 is just a mutated form of the common cold.
While it is true that the common cold and COVID-19 are both members of the coronavirus family, COVID-19 is far more contagious and potentially more deadly.
You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to contract COVID-19.
Prolonged exposure to someone with the coronavirus does increase the odds of contracting it, but it can be contracted with any amount of exposure.
Rinsing the nose with saline protects against the coronavirus.
Saline nose rinses do not protect against diseases, but research does suggest that this technique might reduce the symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections.
You can protect yourself by gargling bleach.
Gargling bleach accomplishes nothing other than causing serious harm to the mouth, throat and nose.
Antibiotics kill COVID-19.
Antibiotics kill bacteria. COVID-19 is a virus and therefore unaffected.
Thermal scanners can diagnose COVID-19.
Thermal scanners can detect whether an individual is feverish, which is a symptom of COVID-19. It’s also a symptom of the seasonal flu and many other conditions. Additionally, during COVID-19’s incubation period (2–14 days), an infected individual’s temperature would appear normal.
Garlic protects against the coronavirus.
There is some research that suggests garlic may help fight bacteria. However, COVID-19 is a virus, not bacteria.
Parcels from China can spread COVID-19.
From previous research into similar coronaviruses, including the SARS and MERS viruses scientists believe that it can’t survive on letters or packages for an extended time. The CDC has stated, “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.”
Home remedies can cure and protect against the coronavirus.
No home remedies prevent COVID-19. Any products such as vitamin C, essential oils, silver colloid or simple solutions such as sesame oil, garlic or sipping water every 15 minutes are not scientifically supported and do not work. The best scientifically-backed prevention methods have already been detailed above.
You can catch COVID-19 from eating Chinese food in the U.S.
This statement is completely false and only fuels stigmatic behavior arising from the association of the coronavirus with China.
You can catch the coronavirus from urine and feces.
This statement is highly unlikely to be true. Professor John Edmunds from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the U.K. stated that “every time you swallow, you swallow mucus from your upper respiratory tract. . . . This sweeps viruses and bacteria down into our gut where they are denatured in the acid conditions of our stomachs. . . . we can detect these viruses in feces. Usually, viruses we can detect in this way are not infectious to others, as they have been destroyed by our guts.”
The virus will die off when temperatures rise in the spring.
Although viruses such as the common cold and seasonal flu do spread more easily in colder months, they do not stop entirely when the weather warms. Currently, scientists do not know how temperature changes will influence the behavior of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the deadliest virus known to humankind.
Although COVID-19 appears to be more serious than the seasonal flu, it is a far milder virus than the likes of viruses like Ebola which have higher mortality rates.
Flu and pneumonia vaccines protect against COVID-19.
As every virus is different, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of now. Receiving the seasonal flu shot will decrease the chances of contracting influenza, and the pneumonia vaccine will prevent cases of influenza or COVID-19 from evolving into pneumonia.
The outbreak began because people ate bat soup.
Scientists are confident that the coronavirus began in animals before jumping to humans, but there is no evidence that it came from soup.
Thoughts to Consider Moving Forward
In the coming weeks, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is likely to increase dramatically. These numbers will increase sharply as doctors become more able to test citizens and more easily recognize coronavirus infections.
It is important to be prepared but stay calm. COVID-19 does not have the highest death rates of all the diseases humanity has faced, but it is a highly unusual viral strain that has spread quickly.
If you are at risk and concerned about contracting the coronavirus, stock up on food, medication and necessary supplies, and stay home as much as possible, especially avoiding crowded places and travel. Wash hands often, avoid touching your face and disinfect surfaces such as phones.
If you start to feel symptoms, contact a doctor immediately to be tested. Stay at home, wear a mask and cough/sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
Ultimately, it is our civic duty to slow the spread of COVID-19 so our hospital system doesn’t get overwhelmed. The U.S. has a low rate of hospital beds per capita, so if the rate of infection continues to increase, there may not be enough hospital beds for at-risk patients to receive the care they need.
By James Parker
James Parker is a news writer and fact-checker from Coral Springs, Florida. He majored in Communication and Media Studies at Stetson University, where he spent much of his time bringing the cutting edge of medical research to his peers’ attention. When he’s not writing, he enjoys rewatching “Almost Famous” or curling up with a good book.