Blog Post

May 14, 2020

Five Common Virus-Prevention Myths Debunked

In the age of globalization, everything travels faster than ever: people, information, illnesses. It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when anxiety rears its head. Here are five myths you may have heard about preventing illness. While people pass on misinformation like this because they have society's best interests at heart, the results can be deadly. Protect yourself by finding accurate, verified information written by medical experts.


MYTH: Gargling with soapy water can kill viruses.


FACT: "If you do want to gargle, use plain water or salt water that's warm, not hot," says Alyssa Bernanke, an MD-PhD candidate at Duke University. Furthermore, it's unlikely that even plain gargling will knock out a respiratory infection like the ones caused by the novel coronavirus. A study in BMC Infectious Diseases shows that gargling has nearly no effect on upper respiratory illnesses.


MYTH: It's safe to jog or bike outside, as long as I'm six feet from other people.


FACT: A simulation study by physicists in the Netherlands and Belgium examined bikers and runners in an urban setting. The scientists found that infected droplets might travel further than six feet when the person they're coming from is moving quickly, as bikers and joggers do. This study hasn't been duplicated or published in a journal. Even so, if you're in motion around others, it's smart (and considerate) to keep your distance.


MYTH: Medication I haven't been prescribed will help me fight off infectious diseases.


FACT: When doctors prescribe medication, they perform a complex cost-benefit analysis for their patients. All medications come with side effects. Some of them can be dangerous under the wrong circumstances. Be wary of medicating yourself off-label, especially if no clinical trials have taken place. For example, the efficacy of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients has not been studied, and it's known that those drugs can cause certain people harm. Better safe (and under a doctor's supervision) than sorry.


MYTH: Washing my hands with hot water is the only way to kill germs.


FACT: The temperature of the water doesn't affect bacteria and viruses - at least, not until it burns skin, too. Handwashing kills harmful microorganisms by breaking them apart with soap and friction, then rinsing off any remnants with water of any temperature. Studies show that cool water works well on viruses (including the novel coronavirus) and is just as effective as hot water on bacteria. Wash with whatever temperature is most comfortable for you.


MYTH: If I can hold my breath for ten seconds, I don't have a respiratory infection.


FACT: "No matter what anyone says, there is no test - besides a laboratory test - to determine if you are infected with COVID-19," says Joel Bernanke, MD MSc. If you think you're infected with the novel coronavirus, or with another upper respiratory infection, holding your breath will unfortunately give you no information. All you can do is wait for testing from a qualified doctor.


Knowledge is power: the more you know about preventing illness, the more likely you are to stay healthy. Share these tips with your friends and loved ones, wash your hands, and don't fall prey to misinformation. You'll be safer in the long run if you do.



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