Updated March 06, 2020

As coronavirus continues to spread, many are working on how to combat and mitigate the disease. However, fear still abounds, leading to myths and rumors surrounding the virus. 

And while many experts say cases of the virus will increase as testing becomes more widely available, the best way to prevent the spread is to know the facts.

“New myths keep popping up every couple of days. All of that makes it much harder to deal with this,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who specializes in infectious diseases, told Travel + Leisure. “The more time we spend trying to debunk these myths, the less time we spend actually thinking about the science of this virus.”

As more than 200 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 12 people have died from the virus in the U.S. as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University, Travel +Leisure asked medical experts to debunk some of the more common — and uncommon — misnomers surrounding COVID-19. Here are their answers.

Passengers coming from China wearing protective masks leave the terminal 2 after landing at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport on March 5, 2020 in Roissy-en-France, France. Due to a sharp increase in the number of cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) declared in Paris and throughout France, several sporting, cultural and festive events have been postponed or canceled
Chesnot/Getty

Myth: We should panic.

Truth: Panic is the exact opposite thing people should do.

“We have seen multiple epidemics like this over the past decade or two — SARS, H1N1, Ebola — and throughout the whole time, we've had flu,” Dr. Brandon Brown, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Riverside and an epidemiologist, told T+L. “Obviously, the best way to prevent getting a communicable disease is to not be around a bunch of people. If you are going to travel on something like a subway, wash your hands after, don't touch your nose and mouth.”

Myth: Coronavirus is solely a travel-related virus.

Truth: While the virus did originate in China, it is now widespread throughout the world, Dr. Adalja told T+L. In fact, he added that the U.S. will eventually see more cases that are not related to travel than are.

“It’s not something we should be stigmatizing any individual from China or South Korea or Italy or Iran,” he said. “Whatever geographic [connotation] this had is long gone.”

The CDC has also noted that instances specifically in the U.S. have been the result of "community spread," meaning "the spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown."

Myth: Coronavirus is more dangerous to Americans than the flu.

Truth: While the coronavirus death rate is currently higher than that of the flu, Brown said that “we're really ramping up for the flu [and] we've really forgotten about it.”

Brown added that since Oct. 1, thousands of people have died from the flu.

Myth: You can use an antiviral drug like Tamiflu to prevent coronavirus.

Truth: While experts are testing different medications that have worked in previous epidemics, there is no evidence they will work yet. Instead, doctors suggest taking fever reducers, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting lots of rest to mitigate the symptoms.

Myth: You can only get coronavirus from people who are visibly sick.

Truth: Brown said that a sick person can shed the virus before they are symptomatic “by touching things or shaking hands.” He also noted that since we are in the middle of flu season, “it's more likely that it's the flu or just a cough.”

Dr. Stanley Deresinski, a clinical professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Stanford University, told T+L that experts are operating on the assumption that transmission from an asymptomatic patient can occur.

“There's going to be a stage of the illness where there's going to be no fever, or there's going to be complete resolution where there's going to be no fever,” he said. “If you have even mild symptoms, then you should be wearing a mask.”

Related: How Airlines and Cruise Ships Are Disinfecting During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Myth: If you feel sick, run to the emergency room.

Truth: Rather than run to an emergency room, experts suggest calling your primary care doctor if you think you could have coronavirus.

“If every person who had a sneeze or a cough went to the emergency room, the hospitals and public health centers would be completely overwhelmed. We're not even truly prepared to handle everyone with flu,” Brown said.

Myth: Coronavirus is fatal.

Truth: Most people who contract coronavirus will display mild symptoms, like a cough or fever. The people at highest risk of dying from coronavirus are those who are over the age 65 and who have chronic conditions, an immune deficiency, or an underlying illness like HIV, cancer, or lung disease, Brown said.

He added that while the virus seems to be impacting older adults, including several who died in one Washington state nursing home, it doesn’t appear to be affecting children as much, though experts “don't really know why right now.”

A Tourists with masks in the center of Rome, Italy on March 4, 2020
NurPhoto/Getty

Myth: Masks prevent coronavirus.

Truth: The Surgeon General has asked Americans to stop buying masks as they are ineffective against the virus and purchases could actually cause a shortage for healthcare workers.

“If you're wearing a surgical mask, it's not necessarily tight against the nose and mouth,” Brown told T+L, but added that they could be useful if you're sick. “If a person is sick and they’re sneezing and coughing, [wearing a mask] could prevent spreading that to others.”

The CDC also advised that face masks are for health care workers and people who are confirmed to be diagnosed with coronavirus in their prevention guidelines.

Myth: The coronavirus was manufactured in China as a bioweapon.

Truth: Brown told T+L that while the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been doing research on bats — from which SARS likely developed — the virus did not originate in their labs. In fact, he added that the research they are doing “is to prevent exactly what's happening right now.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the disease likely originated in an animal (maybe even a bat) that then spread to humans.

Myth: Anyone Chinese has coronavirus.

Truth: Unfortunately, this myth is based on xenophobia and racism. While Brown said that people who visited an affected area in mainland China were more likely to have been exposed to the disease, “now that the virus is spreading worldwide, it seems to be less of a concern than what's happening in our backyard.”

Similarly, Adalja said the virus doesn’t come from food or products from China. “This isn't a food-borne illness, this is a respiratory illness,” he said.

Additionally, The World Health Organization notes that "even though the new coronavirus can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days (depending on the type of surface), it is very unlikely that the virus will persist on a surface after it has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures."

A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation on February 28, 2020 in Nutley, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur / Stringer via Getty Images

Myth: Spraying your body with a substance like alcohol can kill coronavirus.

Truth: While using alcohol-based hand sanitizers is generally a good idea, wiping down your body with it will not kill a virus you have already contracted.

The World Health Organization advises concerned individuals to "be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations."

And no, the alcohol in vodka will not to any help in disinfecting.

Advertisement