Novel coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19, has become a household theme of discussion, especially since the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a global public health emergency of international concern on January 30.

As cases continue to increase and more deaths are confirmed, all countries continue to invest in preparedness and response measures with emphasis on reducing human infection, prevention of secondary transmission and international spread.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that range from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

The current novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak is making major headlines. However, it is also being accompanied by several myths and misleading information leading to anxiety among the public. Here are a few myths about this virus.

The influenza vaccine can prevent coronavirus – FALSE

The influenza vaccine protects against influenza virus. Coronavirus is another family of viruses which is different from influenza so the vaccine will not protect against coronavirus. There is no vaccine for coronavirus yet. Scientists are still trying to develop a vaccine which can work against the virus.  If you haven’t taken the influenza vaccine, it is still important to take it as influenza is currently at its peak.

Natural remedies can treat coronavirus − FALSE

Many have seen various social media posts which claim that natural remedies like gargling with saltwater, eating garlic cloves or using some Chinese medicine are possible treatment options for coronavirus. This is not correct. There is no evidence that using mouthwash will protect you from infection with the new coronavirus.  Some brands of mouthwash can eliminate certain microbes for a few minutes in the saliva in your mouth. This does not mean they protect you from coronavirus infection. Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties but there is no evidence that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.

Currently, there is no treatment available for coronavirus. Treatment is only supportive for this virus and viral infections have their own course and subside on their own. From the information available, 98 per cent of people recover. Some specific treatments are under investigation and will be tested through clinical trials.

Healthy individuals are not at the risk − FALSE

Many people believe that only those individuals with a weak immune system or with other respiratory conditions are at risk of getting infected with coronavirus. Everyone is at equal risk, even healthy individuals. Hence, it is important that every individual protects himself or herself by taking the necessary precautionary measures. People who are elderly or have chronic diseases are more at risk of getting complications if they get infected with novel coronavirus.

A distance of two metres should be maintained from people who are sick or coughing, especially those who have travelled recently

Transmission occurred from bat soup − FALSE

A video of a young woman eating bat soup has gone viral on social media claiming that consumption of bat soup is the cause of this outbreak. This is not correct.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others circulate among animals like camels, cats and bats.

We know that through a natural phenomenon, viruses jump from animals to humans. When the virus is passed from animal to human, the process is known as ‘spillover’. This occurs through close human-to-animal contact, especially in markets where live and dead animals are sold. The virus then mutates to be able to affect humans and become transmissible from human to human. The exact source of novel coronavirus is still not confirmed.

Pets at home can spread the novel coronavirus – FALSE

At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.

Antibiotics can treat novel coronavirus − FALSE

Antibiotics do not work against viruses. Antibiotics are only effective for bacteria. The new coronavirus is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if a patient needs hospitalisation for the virus, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

What are the facts?

Can surgical masks prevent the virus from spreading?

Surgical masks do not have a perfect airtight seal from the outside and most  of them do not have air filters. Though a mask will reduce the chance of catching the virus, there is still a good chance of getting it. It is better to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use alcohol-based rubs/wipes.

If one has a temperature or a cold, does he have the virus?

Currently we are at the peak of influenza and various common colds. These have very similar symptoms to novel coronavirus. If a person has not visited a country like China where there is sustained transmission of novel coronavirus, then it is probable that one has the flu or a common cold. 

Will I die if I am diagnosed with coronavirus?

Until now, most coronavirus deaths have only occurred in China. However, things may change as the virus spreads. Coronavirus causes pneumonia. Around 10 per cent of people infected by the Sars coronavirus between 2002-2003 had died. As of now, around two per cent of people infected by the novel coronavirus have died because of it. Most of those people were in the age group 40-60 years.

Can I get the virus if I touch an infected person?

The virus spreads through ‘close contact’. Very light and accidental touching will not cause the spread of the virus. However, droplets from coughing and exhaling can easily cause the virus to spread. A distance of two metres should be maintained from people who are sick or coughing, especially those who have travelled recently.

When there is a lack of information, people tend to make up stories in an attempt to rationalise the situation.  But it is important that one seeks reputable sources of information to avoid fake rumours and panic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s director general, advised at a recent news conference that: “We are all in this together and we can only stop it together. This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”

Charmaine Gauci is the superintendent of Public Health.

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