Doctor’s Note: Coronavirus myths and misconceptions

A doctor explains why drinking alcohol and hot liquids will not kill the coronavirus or slow down the infection.

Doctor''s note - coronavirus myths
Laboratory technicians from Mount Kenya University produce hand sanitiser gel from locally-produced alcohol in response to the scarcity of such products [AP Photo/John Muchucha]

With every global crisis comes an onslaught of conjecture and conspiracy theories, and coronavirus is no different. Here are five of the more common myths and misconceptions, and the reasons that they do not stack up scientifically.

1) Drinking water frequently will help to clear the virus from your throat and prevent it from going to your lungs

This is one I have seen doing the rounds a great deal recently. While it is important to stay hydrated during any viral illness, drinking water will not have any effect on whether you catch it or how severe your symptoms will be.

Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, or when you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face.

The viral particles travel via your eyes, nose and mouth down your airways where they then cause infection. Even if drinking could make a difference, the virus has already entered your system and started to cause illness.

2) Drinking alcohol kills coronavirus

This is one of the more dangerous myths that I have come across recently, and one that has sadly contributed to the deaths of several people in Iran.

It was reported that more than 50 people have died and hundreds more were hospitalised after consuming toxic, bootleg alcohol, believing it would cure coronavirus.

Coronavirus is killed by anything that contains at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. These are used as ingredients for hand washes and hand sanitisers.

Drinking them will not get rid of the virus and could be harmful if consumed in excessive quantities. Drinking other types of industrial-strength alcohol could be fatal.

3) The flu vaccine will protect you against coronavirus

Coronaviruses and flu (which is caused by a different family of viruses to COVID-19) are all viruses that cause respiratory infections.

Some of the symptoms also overlap, such as fever, cough, headache, aches and pains, and generally feeling weak and unwell.

However, because they are different families of virus, the flu vaccine, which protects against influenza, will not have any effect on coronavirus as far as we know.

Many scientists are currently working to find a potential vaccine for coronavirus, but it is likely to be several months, if not a year, before we are close to having something we can use.

4) Pets can catch and spread coronavirus*

Humans do not seem to be the only ones susceptible to this disease. Many people have been isolating or even getting rid of their pets because of the fear that they may spread the infection.

There is no evidence that domestic pets, such as cats and dogs, can contract or spread this particular coronavirus.

However, it is sensible to wash your hands when petting your animals and try not to kiss them, just in case they have virus particles on their skin or fur.

5) Eating and drinking hot things will kill it

OK, so this one is partially true, but still a bit misleading. We do know that heat can inactivate coronaviruses (so heating to high temperatures is used to decontaminate medical products, for example). However, this does not work in humans.

Having warm drinks can soothe the throat if it is sore. However, drinking or eating hot things will not significantly reduce your chances of picking up coronavirus, or slow it down once you have caught it.

That also applies to taking hot baths. You are much more likely to cause yourself a nasty burn than prevent any illness.

*Update: On April 6, 2020 it was reported that a four-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York had tested positive for the coronavirus. More information about whether animals, including pets, can carry the disease will follow.

Source: Al Jazeera