In Depth

Coronavirus: five myths debunked

WHO has published list of widely held misconceptions about the deadly infection

Speculation and claims about the coronavirus outbreak have been mounting since the first cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

And in a world where so-called fake news has become worryingly prevalent, a number of myths surrounding the disease - and how to protect against it - have surfaced online.

Although scientists are still learning about the new virus, here are some of the claims being made that are known to be incorrect.  

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You can get infected from packages or letters from China 

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the virus cannot survive for long outside the body and therefore cannot be caught from objects such as packages and letters sent from China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

As information site notes, claims to the contrary are “harmful since it only helps perpetuate the stigmatisation of specific populations linked to the coronavirus”.

Pets can spread the virus

Health officials announced last week that a dog in Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus, reports CNBC.

But scientists are unsure whether the pet, whose owner had also tested positive, was actually infected or was simply “hosting” the virus on its nose and mouth after coming into contact with a contaminated surface, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO’s emergencies programme.

Scientists say there is “no evidence” to suggest pets such as cats and dogs can spread the new coronavirus, according to the WHO website.  

However, “it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets”, to protect against “various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans”, the United Nations agency adds.

Only older people are at risk

People of all ages can be infected by the coronavirus.

Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions - including asthma, diabetes and heart disease - appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill.

But younger people have also died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old Chinese doctor who first sounded the alarm about the outbreak, is among more than 2,850 people worldwide who have lost their lives to the infection to date.

Antibiotics can prevent and treat the new coronavirus 

“To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus,” says WHO.

As explains, “antibiotics do not work against viruses of any kind - only bacteria”. As such, WHO advises that “antibiotics should not be used” in a bid to combat the ongoing outbreak.

Pneumonia vaccines, such as the pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, will not provide protection against the new coronavirus either.

This “virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine”,  says WHO.

However, while researchers are rushing to develop such a vaccine, it is unlikely to be available until “mid-way through next year at best”, according to the BBC.

Thermal scanners can effectively detect all new cases 

Thermal scanners, which show body temperature, are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever.

However, they cannot detect the infection in those who are not yet showing symptoms. And as WHO says, “it takes between two and ten days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever”.

“Also important to note: the flu also causes similar symptoms to Covid-19, including a fever - so just because someone has a fever doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been infected with the new coronavirus,” adds


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