What NOT to Talk About When We Talk About Coronavirus

We fact check fake news and misinformation around Covid-19 that is proving to be more contagious than the virus.

Priyamvada Kowshik

“There are no masks available even for doctors doing surgeries,” Dr Puneet Bedi, a senior gynaecologist at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital who often deals with high risk pregnancies and births, says this with a sense of exasperation. 

India has 77 positive cases and one death from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as we publish this piece, and for most of us eagerly looking for updates on the epidemic, the first line of defence is a mask. In Delhi the demand for masks is so high that many pharmacies in the city have put out notices saying they have run out of masks.

As we prepare to combat a microscopic villain with masks and sanitizers, (yea, some politicians are suggesting we add gaumutra to the arsenal)—the misinformation campaign around Covid-19 is proving to be even more contagious than the virus. 

The coronavirus is so new that scientists' understanding of how it is spreading is still limited. However, fake news is being liberally shared as medical advice on Facebook and Twitter, and WhatApp warriors are ahead of scientists in analysing the behaviour of the virus. Top researchers across the globe are trying to zero in on what exactly happened in the Wuhan wet market—the wildlife market which has been identified as the epicentre of the epidemic, but the quacks running WhatsApp University are unabashedly "informing” users that the coronavirus “appears to be caused by gene fusion in a snake and a bat, and has acquired the ability to infect mammals, including humans.”

No. Not verified. FAKE!

There’s plenty more fraudulent claims to cure, but here’s fake advice that you should ignore.

1. Cow Urine, Yoga and other “Indian” Cures have no scientific basis for curing Coronavirus

First it was Assam BJP MLA Suman Haripriya who said that cow urine purifies an area and that “something similar could be done with cow urine and dung to cure coronavirus.” Then, earlier this month, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, while addressing the Yoga Mahotsav at Rishikesh, said that regular practice of yoga can fight deadly diseases, including coronavirus. The truth is that it cannot. Yoga is great for your well being, but yoga cannot fight a viral load--there is no scientific basis to Adityanath’s claim that it can fight the coronavirus.

2. Washing clothes, drying/sunning clothes for two hours, or sun exposure is not how you kill the coronavirus

A WhatsApp and Facebook forward being bandied about as advice from Unicef is claiming that the coronavirus lives on fabric for 9 hours, so just washing clothes or putting them out in the sun for 2 hours will kill the virus. 

Unicef has refuted this saying this is a fake forward, falsely attributed to the global agency, and that people should only follow verified advice.

Sunning your clothes is a good practice at any time of the year, but whether it kills the virus is not known, and  this advice has not been verified by any of the global health protection agencies monitoring the epidemic. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a foremost agency for public health, has reiterated that it is so far not known how the virus will react to warm weather or weather and temperature changes. 

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself is by not touching your face, nose or eyes if you are in a public place, washing your hands with soap frequently, especially if you are outdoors or have just returned home.

3. Drinking hot water or a hot bath will not eliminate the virus

Drinking hot water or hot fluids provides relief from a sore throat, it does not cure anything! While drinking boiled and cooled water is a good idea, coronavirus is not known to be transmitted by food or water. According to the CDC, the Covid-19 virus is spreading from person to person. Which means that a person carrying the virus is capable of spreading it to others who come in contact with him/her. When an infected person sneezes, coughs, talks, sings, or laughs, moist drops of saliva or mucus can be thrown 3 to 6 feet in the air around them. Viruses ride on these moist droplets and if you come in contact with them, or touch your nose, face or mouth, the virus may enter your respiratory system. This is how the common cold is transmitted. As a precaution, maintain a distance of 4 to 6 feet from people who may show symptoms of cold or flu. 

Can a hot water bath prevent you from Covid-19? No. According to the WHO, “Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you.” Frequently washing your hands eliminates viruses that may be on your hands and can thus be transmitted when you touch your face, nose or mouth. Also clean your phone screen and laptop keyboard with alcohol wipes to keep them from infecting you. 

4. Drinking lemon juice everyday

is not a cure for Covid-19

Lemon juice is rich in vitamin C, an essential nutrient that helps build your immunity. However, “drinking water with slices of lemon in a cup of lukewarm water” cannot save your life, as is being claimed by fraud scientists on social media. A post attributed to “Dr Laila Ahmadi from China, Faculty of Medical sciences, Zanjan University” is being shared generously as a cure for Covid-19. Not only is University of Zanjan located in Iran (and not China), the post grossly misguides readers about this advice being published in academic groups.  



Use of a face mask is not fool proof

A mask is useful to prevent spreading any virus or bacteria if you are coughing or sneezing, so use one if you are, or if you’re taking care of a family member who has a common cold or flu, or a Covid-19 infection. Also, a face mask can give you a false sense of protection, so don’t forget to follow the other preventive steps of washing hands with soap or cleaning with alcohol- based hand rub. One forward, again fraudulently attributed to Unicef says that the coronavirus “is large in size with a diameter of 400 to 500 micros (sic) and for this reason any mask prevents its entry.” 
This is fake news!

6. Haldi-doodh has anti-inflammatory properties but is not a cure

 Indians love haldi doodh—our go-to treatment for a common cold, infections and for general wellbeing. True, curcumin found in turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and is an immunity-boosting food. It is a good idea to add turmeric, especially fresh turmeric found abundantly in this season, to your sabzi or smoothies. Turmeric cannot, however, prevent or cure an infection. So, if you show symptoms of cold, dry cough and fever, visit a doctor and follow medical advice to get tested for Coronavirus, if necessary.

7. Salt water gargle or rinsing

your nose with salt water will not kill the virus

Salt water gargle works to soothe a sore throat and congestion, but there is no scientific evidence to its effect on the new coronavirus. The WHO advisory on coronavirus reiterates that there is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from the infection from the novel coronavirus. "There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing your nose with saline can help recover more quickly from the common cold," says the WHO website, adding that this has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.

8. Homeopathy,

Unani, Ayurveda has no cure for Covid-19

In January this year, the Ministry of AYUSH issued an advisory for the “prevention” of infection from novel coronavirus, using homoeopathy, and “symptomatic management” using Unani medicines. In its advisory, the ministry recommended a course of Arsenicum album30, used in homeopathy to treat influenza-like illness. The prescription came after the 64th meeting of the Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy in January. 

While some herb-based formulations may help in building immunity, there is no known cure for Coronavirus so far in any system of medicine, and these should be used with discretion, under the supervision of trained experts. 

9. Eating garlic will not prevent the infection  

Another common food that is being peddled as a preventive, Garlic is a healthy food and is shown to have some anti-microbial properties, but it cannot prevent or cure an infection. Adding garlic to the food you eat, eating a wholesome diet of rainbow coloured fruits, vegetables, cereals and lentils flavoured with herbs and roots such as ginger, is a great way to build your immunity and improve your well being. People with a stronger immunity have been shown to recover from the Covid-19 infection successfully.

10. Eating chicken will

not give you coronavirus

As news of the epidemic went viral, chicken sales in Indian plummeted by almost 80 per cent in some regions. The reason for this were rumours that chickens were carriers of the coronavirus and could pass it on to humans. This is not true. Recently, FSSAI chief GSG Ayyangar asserted that "there is no evidence to show that coronavirus spreads through eating chicken, mutton or seafood."  This is a good time to reinforce the hygiene practices when handling meat or seafood.

Follow these practices, always:
  1. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and meat. 
  2. Don't cross-contaminate. Place poultry/seafood/meat and vegetables in separate compartments in the freezer/refrigerator, and their juices away from cooked or raw food.
  3. After cutting raw meats, wash the cutting board, knife and utensils with warm soapy water. Wipe the countertop with warm water and soap.    
    The global chicken-scare could be attributed to how the novel coronavirus originated, in the wet market of Wuhan, China, a place where wildlife and wild mammals are sold. A paper published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in Oxford Academia states that the novel coronavirus was first isolated from stallholders who worked at the South China Seafood Market in Wuhan, a market that also sells wild animals and mammals, which were likely intermediate hosts of 2019-nCoV which may have originated from bat hosts.

    Images: Shutterstock.com


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