The latest coronavirus myths debunked

Scrolling on social media, how many pseudoscience articles about COVID-19 have you come across? Would you even be able to tell the difference between real and fake news? Here are the latest coronavirus myths debunked.

  • Hot countries are less likely to experience a coronavirus outbreak because high temperatures kill the virus.

Firstly, it is important to point out that the data researchers have concerning coronavirus and temperature is based on previous experiments with SARS and MERS, viruses belonging to the same family to COVID-19. These suggest that temperatures above 56 degrees Celsius are able to kill the virus in approximately 15 minutes. The articles which suggest hot countries are at a lower risk to an outbreak are failing at the fact that even the Sahara Desert does not reach that temperature in peak summer. In fact, the 2012 MERS coronavirus outbreak thrived in the Middle East, with cases in Saudi Arabia during August where temperatures can reach to 50 degrees Celcius.

The latest statistics on COVID-19 have shown that the virus has infiltrated almost 200 countries, including Greenland (very cold) and northern Africa (very hot). It is clear that viruses of this nature do not discriminate between hot and cold countries, and are equally likely to spread in both climates. Hotter countries are no less likely to experience an outbreak, therefore if you are planning on fleeing the country to spend your lockdown on a scorching beach I’d think again.

  • Summer will bring warmer temperatures which will kill the virus

Along the same lines of hot countries being immune to the virus, it is unlikely that warmer temperatures will magically kill off coronavirus. As the winter season draws to a close in the northern hemisphere, certain political leaders, including the US president Donald Trump, have suggested that the emergence of spring and summer will burn out the virus. Virologists are indeed open to the possibility that these seasons will halt the spread of infection, however this has nothing to do with increasing temperatures.

The seasonal flu is responsible for an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 deaths per year. Experts think the reason why the flu spreads more readily in winter is because people spend more time together at home and in schools. The long summer holiday disperses school children and encourages people to spend time outdoors where there are large open spaces and fresh air. These are conditions which are unfavourable for the influenza virus. What virologists are posing is that with warmer temperatures, people will be less inclined to stay in confined spaces, thereby lowering the rate of general virus transmissibility, including COVID-19.

The idea that warmer weather in the northern hemisphere will reduce COVID-19 spread is therefore not due to high temperatures killing the virus, but people taking part in outdoor social activities and keeping a distance to others. What we may see, however, is an increase in infection rates in the southern hemisphere as it set to cool in the coming months. We must also be wary, here, as following the summer, cooler temperatures in the autumn may bring with them a second wave of coronavirus.

  • Cold weather and snow will freeze the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading

Here we see the exact opposite of the above myth; this time claiming that freezing temperatures can kill the coronavirus.

The human body has a clever mechanism which mimics a kind of thermostat, ensuring that the core body temperature remains around 36.5-37 degrees Celsius at all times, regardless of whether it is sunny or snowing outside. This kind of thermoregulation keeps the temperature optimum for the many biological and chemical reactions which occur inside our bodies, and it is important for our survival.

Unfortunately, this temperature is also optimal for the coronavirus to replicate and rapidly produce thousands of viral particles in our bodies. In fact, the virus is able to replicate at temperatures much lower than this, all the way down to -80 degrees Celsius. This means it is able to survive even in Antarctica. So no, cold weather and snow cannot freeze coronavirus.

  • Coronavirus is more deadly than any other pathogen

Coronavirus is thought to have a fatality rate of 3-4%. With worldwide discrepancies in testing and missing data on asymptomatic individuals, this percentage might actually be smaller. Previous strains of coronavirus – SARS and MERS – both had higher fatality rates than COVID-19 (9.6% and 34.4% respectively), therefore in actual fact, COVID-19 is the least deadly coronavirus to date. Other viruses like Ebola, Marburg are more serious, including rabies virus which has a 99.9% fatality rate. Also, don’t forget influenza used to kill many thousands of people each winter before a vaccine was created. Coronavirus may be scary, but only because it is the unknown. We must all take a step back and see the bigger picture – it is not the worst thing to happen to the earth.

  • Drinking water heated to above 60 degrees Celsius can kill the virus

Although there is some science in this, it’s been misconstrued and badly reiterated. Yes, water heated to 56 degrees Celsius or above can kill the virus after 30 minutes, but frantically drinking 20 cups of tea a day will not eradicate your infection. It is impossible for the human body to raise its temperature this high – you will die. The same way people can die from fevers barely exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. You might feel hot and sweaty after downing freshly-boiled water, however it will only burn the protective lining of your throat, putting you even more at risk of catching coronavirus or another respiratory disease.

  • Taking a hot bath can prevent you from getting ill from coronavirus

The same applies here. A hot bath cannot raise your core body temperature to the minimal temperature required to kill coronavirus. Even if it’s extremely hot. It will only end up burning you and you’ll end up in hospital, where you are probably more likely to actually contract the disease. Washing your hands with hot soapy water is enough – don’t go crazy. Just be sensible and practise good general hygiene; don’t cover yourself in alcoholic gels or chlorine either as that does not work and will only irritate your eyes and mouth.

Just be safe and always check the sources of the articles you read. The media thrives off this stuff; it is important to stay informed and not to panic. In the meantime – stay at home.

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