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Debunking Coronavirus Myths

Debunking Coronavirus Myths
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Published on April 8, 2020

Wait, isn’t this just the flu? I thought it only impacted old people. Do I really need to hoard toilet paper?

There’s no shortage of information about the coronavirus pandemic, whether in the news, on social media, from family and friends, the government or the experts. But what to do (and what not to do) to protect oneself from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, seems to constantly change.

In a matter of weeks, we went from swapping handshakes for fist bumps to greetings from six feet across the way.

Below are a few widely distributed claims that have taken on a life of their own despite their erroneous origins.

Myth: This is nothing but the flu.

Aches, fever, coughing. The symptoms may be similar, but COVID-19 is not just the flu. Unlike the flu, there is currently no vaccine or proven treatments for COVID-19. And because it’s new, no one has developed immunity to it. COVID-19 is also much deadlier. On average, seasonal flu strains kill about 0.1 percent of people who become infected, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A report on 1,099 cases of coronavirus from many parts of China, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found a death rate of 1.4 percent. The coronavirus is also more contagious. Each person with the coronavirus appears to infect 2.2 other people. By comparison, the figure for the seasonal flu is roughly 1.3.

Myth: It’s an elderly person’s disease.

There’s no doubt that older people and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk, but younger people are not immune. From February 12 to March 16, 38 percent of COVID-19 patients who were sick enough to be hospitalized in the U.S. were between ages 20 and 54, according to the CDC. In New York state, 54 percent of the cases were identified in patients between 18 and 49, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “I think everyone should be paying attention to this,” said Stephen S. Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s not just going to be the elderly. There will be people age 20 and up. They do have to be careful, even if they think that they’re young and healthy.”

Myth: We should all be wearing face masks.

Well, this may be partially true. The CDC, World Health Organization and even the U.S. Surgeon General have maintained that masks should be worn by those with the disease or those in close contact with a person suspected of being infected. However, the Washington Post reported earlier this week that CDC officials are considering altering their guidance and encouraging people to cover their faces with cloth coverings. Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the paper the CDC should urge people to use non-medical masks or face coverings regardless of whether they have symptoms. “I think it would be a prudent step we can all take to reduce transmission” by people who are infected but have no symptoms, he said. According to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, as many as 25 percent of people with the coronavirus may never show symptoms.

Myth: There is a food shortage.

Stores may be out of milk, eggs and bread. But there is no nationwide food shortage. “Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S., and there are currently no widespread disruptions reported in the supply chain,” the FDA said on March 17. Additionally, the FDA has taken steps to prevent disruptions in the food supply chain because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn in a March 17 press release. “While we are confident that stores will remain open and supply will continue to meet demand nationwide, we ask all Americans to only purchase enough food and essentials for the week ahead.”

Myth: We are going to run out of paper products.

Toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissue may be scarce, but paper products still exist. “Rest assured, tissue products continue to be produced and shipped—just as they are 52 weeks each year as part of a global market,” said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, in a March 16 statement. Georgia Pacific, the maker of Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, said on March 13 that “inventory levels across our system remain healthy, and we are working hard to maximize the number of deliveries we can load and ship out of our facilities—you can just load and unload so fast.”

Myth: The coronavirus can be transmitted through food.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can infect people through food, according to the CDC. However, a person may be able to contract the disease by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their face; still, that is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC says. “In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated or frozen temperatures.” If you are especially worried, you can wipe down food packages with a disinfecting wipe or transfer food to another container.

Remember: The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Clean your hands often and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

~Megan Trusdell

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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