Quest for a Cure: 21 coronavirus myths and facts for NJ
As New Jersey continues to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic, there continues to be a lot of misinformation and mythos surrounding COVID-19 and its treatment and prevention.
Pulling from the best data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, major research universities, state and local health departments, and our own enterprise reporting, we have put together a guide to the most commonly asked questions and myths circulating on the internet.
While some will continue to offer alternative theories and viewpoints, we have endeavored to provide you with the best, most credible, information available to date.
QUEST FOR A CURE: Thursday at 7 p.m., New Jersey 101.5 hosts a live discussion on NJ-driven advancements in coronavirus treatment and research that could save lives, help return NJ to work and even make progress toward a vaccine. Listen on New Jersey 101.5 FM, the NJ 101.5 app or Facebook.com/NJ1015.
"Novel Coronavirus is just 'bad flu.'" — MOSTLY FALSE
This is one of the most commonly regurgitated myths about COVID-19. While far more data is needed to determine an exact mortality rate, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggests a mortality rate of between 1% and 3%.
COVID-19 does present with flu-like symptoms that include fever, a cough and body aches. Many who have recovered say the symptoms are far more severe, however, and the lack of energy and exhaustion is debilitating.
Like the flu, COVID-19 infections can be mild, severe, or in rare cases fatal. Both can lead to pneumonia, which can be particularly devastating in the old, young and those with compromised immune systems or underlying conditions.
"The novel coronavirus is just a mutated version of the common cold." — FALSE
There are thousands of coronaviruses besides the one disrupting all of our lives The name comes from the appearance of an outer corona (spiky proteins) on the virus under a microscope. The common cold is one of the myriad coronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2 (what we now commonly refer to as novel coronavirus, new coronavirus, or COVID-19). is an entirely different virus from the one that causes the common cold.
"I’ve tested negative. I’m good." – FALSE
There have been many stories of people contracting novel coronavirus AFTER getting a negative test result. It could be due to multiple factors, including a false negative reading, a new infection after your test, and/or the test being done early in the incubation period after you were already infected. In the latter case, a false negative reading could be due to the virus not multiplying enough to register in the test sample
"If I don’t have symptoms, I can’t get tested." – FALSE
In the early stages of the pandemic, only those presenting with symptoms were allowed to be tested at government-run test sites. With the expansion of testing and more private labs providing tests, most people who want a test can get one. This is still limited in most cases to the number of tests available and often by appointment only. A list of how/where to get a test can be found HERE.
"If I’ve already had COVID-19, I can’t get it again." – UNKNOWN
Most medical experts agree that having recovered from COVID-19 should give you some level of immunity. However, there is not enough data to determine how long it will last or if it will prevent you from getting infected again. A growing number of New Jersey testing sites are offering antibody testing, but the accuracy of the tests is also in question. While the CDC has developed a test with better than 95% accuracy, many of the commercially available tests are far less reliable.
If you do get an antibody test, Rutgers infectious disease expert Dr. David Cennimo suggests you take the results “with a grain of salt.”
"COVID-19 is always fatal." – FALSE
Even though we do not yet know the exact mortality rate, COVID-19 is rarely fatal.
The World Health Organization reported 80% of those infected will experience only mild symptoms. Some estimates put that number as high as 97%.
In New Jersey, less than 7% of those who have tested positive have died. Keep in mind that figure is somewhat misleading, since until recently the state had only been testing those suspected of having been infected. It's unclear how many people have had the disease and never been counted.
Of the documented deaths in New Jersey, about a third have had known underlying health conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
"Only the old and young are at risk." — FALSE
EVERYONE is at risk of infection.
While the infection rate among children has been far lower than the rest of the population, new medical evidence is surfacing about an inflammatory syndrome in kids who have tested positive for COVID-19. Similar to toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, this rare condition can inflame blood vessels and cause permanent and fatal damage to a child’s heart. However, doctors do not yet understand the link (if any) to novel coronavirus. New Jersey hospitals began reporting a handful of cases last week. A number of children have died in New York state.
The majority of serious cases and fatalities have come among the elderly in New Jersey. More than half of the documented deaths in New Jersey have been among those 65 or older. Many of those have been in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
"If I wear a mask, I’m safe." – MOSTLY FALSE
Wearing a mask is not necessarily for your benefit. Proper use of some masks (like the N-95) can reduce up to 99% of droplet expelled during speech. That can reduce the likelihood of an uninfected wearer getting infected. Medical experts believe as high as 50% of all infections are from individuals showing no symptoms.
However, the effectiveness of other cloth masks, scarfs, or other non-medical face coverings are believed to be much less.
Also, there is evidence the novel coronavirus can enter the both through the eyes and possibly the ears.
Cloth masks also do not protect against aerosolized particles.
"Drugs like hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir can treat COVID-19." — UNDETERMINED
While both drugs have gotten a lot of attention in the media (and from President Trump,) neither has been proven an effective therapy for COVID-19 and each come with the potential for significant side effects.
In one clinical study, Remdesiver did reduce recovery time by 31%. However, Johns Hopkins notes its impact on the mortality rate in patients given the drug was “statistically insignificant.” The drug has been approved for compassionate use, or when all other treatments have failed. The FDA is continuing study.
Hydroxychloroquine (whose intended use is as an antimalarial drug) was hyped early on in the pandemic, but mounting medical evidence suggests limited benefits could outweigh often severe side effects. Use of hydroxychloroquine can cause serious, and fatal, damage to the heart as well as permanent vision and hearing loss. Johns Hopkins notes “safety is an issue especially in more severely ill patients; however, it remains without high-quality data to argue for or against its use.
"Plasma therapy can cure COVID-19." – UNDETERMINED
The results certainly have been promising as a treatment, and New Jersey recently expanded its plasma therapy infrastructure. In this therapy, individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 donate blood plasma. The plasma contains antibodies that may boost an infected patient’s own immune system.
Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, for one example, announced two critically ill patients recovered after receiving convalescent plasma. University Hospital in Newark also reports treating approximately 100 COVID-19 patients with plasma therapy and many have recovered.
In announcing a partnership with the American Red Cross to increase collection of convalescent plasma, Gov. Phil Murphy noted the true effectiveness is no yet known.
For now, the therapy is reserved for critically ill patients.
"Can I donate my plasma to a family member?" – WITH RARE EXCEPTIONS, NO.
Collection sites have been set up for convalescent plasma at University Hospital in Newark and the Red Cross blood center in Fairfield. For now, they are focused on building an inventory that can meet all patient needs, and no directed donations are being accepted.
It is possible that this will be made available in the future similar to the way one can donate plasma to a friend or relative undergoing certain cancer treatments.
Columbia and Hopkins hospitals in New York City are conducting trials that include research on donors as well as recipients, and may allow a directed donation under very specific circumstances.
"If I only see someone for a minute, it’s OK." — FALSE
There has been some chatter on social media about a “10-minute rule.” Memes and comments by internet users suggested it would be fine to reduce the time you spend with someone to less than 10 minutes to reduce the risk of infection. A quick drink in the driveway, a short visit to someone front porch or deck, or a short walk was supposedly OK, as long as it was less than 10 minutes.
There is no magic number. While it’s true the longer you spend with an infected person increases your likelihood of being infected, you can get infected in less than 10 minutes.
"Hand sanitizer kills COVID-19." – MOSTLY TRUE
Alcohol, like found in hand sanitizer, can kill most viruses ON the skin when used properly. It cannot kill viruses inside the body.
However, the CDC notes that many do not use hand sanitizer properly. It recommends: When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.
Hand sanitizer is not as effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands. The CDC also notes hand sanitizers probably cannot remove or inactivate many types of harmful chemicals. In one study, people who reported using hand sanitizer to clean hands had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies.
"Washing your hands is the most effective way to reduce COVID-19." – TRUE
The CDC says while hand sanitizer is a good alternative when soap and water is not available, hand washing is the best protection. It recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands.
"Hand dryers kill COVID-19." – FALSE
While there is evidence to suggest the novel coronavirus is not very heat tolerant, hand dryers do not produce enough heat to kill the virus. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest hand dryers may actually spread viruses and bacteria if hands are not washed properly.
"Dogs and cats can spread coronavirus." – MOSTLY FALSE
There have been a few documented cases of dogs and cats carrying the coronavirus, but the medical community is still very skeptical about the risk to humans through their pets.
If an infected person coughs or sneezes near an animal, the virus could land on it’s fur, and transmit it to another person who then pets the animal and touches his or her own face.
"Gargling bleach kills COVID-19." — ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, 100% FALSE
There are no circumstances in which gargling bleach can benefit your health. Bleach should NEVER be put in your mouth. Bleach is highly corrosive and can cause serious damage to the soft tissues of the mouth and damage teeth. If swallowed, bleach can cause severe damage to the esophagus and stomach not to mention poisoning.
"What about injecting bleach?" — Um, NO!
Dr. Penny Ward, an expert on pharmaceutical medicine at King College in London, put it best: “Drinking bleach kills. Injecting bleach kills faster."
"Antibiotics kill COVID-19." – FALSE
Antibiotics do not work against viruses; they only work on bacterial infections. From the CDC: Antibiotics do not prevent or treat coronavirus disease (COVID-19), because COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Some patients with COVID-19 may also develop a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia. In that case, a health care professional may treat the bacterial infection with an antibiotic.
"Some home remedies can protect and treat COVID-19." – FALSE
The internet is FULL of so-called home remedies to prevent, treat, and cure COVID-19. We already addressed bleach above. The same goes for fish tank cleaner. DON’T.
You’ll find hucksters promoting everything from essential oils to sipping water every 15 minutes to high doses of vitamin C. Garlic, sage, sesame oil and silver are also promoted as a preventative. At best, there is limited scientific research that indicates it MIGHT help boost your immune system, but that is NOT preventative if you come in contact with an infected person. At worst, some supplements can actually interfere with prescribed medication and cause a worsening of some conditions. Consult your doctor before taking ANY supplement.
"Drinking alcohol can protect the body from infection." – FALSE
If only a nightly snifter of brandy could be the cure. It’s not. In fact, excessive drinking could actually make you MORE susceptible to infection. The World Health Organization was alarmed by the increase in drinking during the pandemic shutdown and issued an alert that said “Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.”
"What about sex?" – GO FOR IT, BUT BE SAFE
Some have predicted a wave of pandemic babies in 2021. With a lot of couples spending a lot more time alone at home, it certainly possible. New Jersey health officials have not offered specific guidance, but sex with your cohabitation partner should not increase your risk of infection. Safe sex protocols should certainly be observed.
The New York City Health Department issued a rather graphic memo on the subject and declared: “You are your safest sex partner.” Alternately, it suggests sleeping with someone you live with, calling such a person “the second safest sex partner.”
COVID-19 can spread through direct contact and through saliva and mucus. It has also been found in the feces of infected patients. New York also recommends washing your hands before and after sex. The same goes for any sex toys. Avoid kissing anyone outside your intimate social circle. They also recommend postponing any on-line hookups.