Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim to offer expert advice on the novel coronavirus, including symptoms, prevention and how it spreads. This is misleading; experts and health agencies say there is not enough research on the virus to make these specific claims.
The posts — which have been distributed by various users copying and pasting it — is made up of 14 points on the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, all allegedly provided by the uncle of a friend “who worked in Shenzhen Hospital (Guangdong Province, China).”
Common cold vs novel coronavirus symptoms
The Facebook posts warn readers that having a runny nose and sputum means the patient has a common cold, while the novel coronavirus manifests itself as pneumonia featuring a dry cough and no runny nose. This is false.
Brandon Brown, a professor at the University of California Riverside’s Center for Healthy Communities, told AFP by email that the novel coronavirus “can cause a runny nose and sputum,” because “‘the symptoms are first similar to a common cold.”
The misleading posts also describe novel coronavirus symptoms as chronological, with a throat infection as the first symptom, lasting three to four days, followed by pneumonia lasting five to six days.
Symptoms of the novel coronavirus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
Health Canada also said that certain patients may have little to no symptoms, and people may not know if they have symptoms of the virus “because they are similar to a cold or a flu.”
Virus resilience on various surfaces and temperatures
According to the post, the novel coronavirus dies at temperatures above 26/27 degrees, but it can survive for five to 10 minutes on someone’s hand, six to 12 hours on fabric, and 12 hours on metal.
However, medical experts have not made such specific claims about the new virus. The CDC states on its novel coronavirus information page: “It is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19.”
The World Health Organization also states in an informational note that “the new coronavirus can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days (depending on the type of surface).”
Researchers from the Greifswald University Hospital in Germany published findings on the persistence of coronaviruses on certain surfaces in March 2020, although their research did not include COVID-19.
They found that coronaviruses such as SARS, which killed 774 people in 2003, or MERS, discovered in 2012, can survive on “inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days,” although this depends on the temperature.
The posts also claim that “drinking warm water is effective for all viruses,” say people should avoid drinking water with ice, and advise drinking plenty of water in general.
Water temperature is not a factor when it comes to hydration. Brown told AFP that there is “no need to change the temperature of your drinking water,” while adding that, “drinking water is always important, not just for coronavirus prevention.”
Regarding the advice to gargle with warm salt water, Brown answered that it is a common remedy for sore throat in general, not for the novel coronavirus in particular.
Similar claim, different sources
On March 12, 2020, Stanford Health Care published a statement on Facebook in which they denied any affiliation with the viral post and its content.
A variant of the posts appears in WhatsApp messages that make nearly identical claims, attributing them to UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency.
Christopher Tidey, a spokesman for UNICEF, told AFP in an email that it did not send out such a message.
“That post is NOT from UNICEF and it is not accurate,” Tidey said.
Tidey warned that misinformation on the novel coronavirus can be dangerous: “It can spread paranoia, fear, and stigmatization, and have other consequences like offering a false sense of protection.”
Instead, UNICEF recommends washing hands frequently, covering one’s mouth when coughing and sneezing, avoiding close contact with anyone showing cold or flu-like symptoms, and seeking medical care early when developing a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
The alleged UNICEF posts claim that the coronavirus has a cell diameter of 400-500 micrometers (0.4-0.5 millimeters), “so any mask prevents its entry.” This is also false.
Novel coronavirus particles have a diameter ranging between 60 and 140 nanometers (0.06-0.14 micrometers), according to a February 2020 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Chinese researchers.
For health professionals working with potentially infected patients, the CDC recommends wearing N95 respirators rather than facemasks when possible.
For the general population, the CDC “does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.” The WHO says that for those without symptoms, “there is no need to wear a mask.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), 72 cases had been confirmed in Canada as of March 9, 2020, and one death was reported in the country. In the US, the CDC reported 423 cases and 19 deaths on March 9.
Update: This article was updated on March 12, 2020 to add a response from Stanford Health Care. It also added information on the COVID-19 particle size.
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