The truth is out there: debunking the COVID-19 myths & conspiracy theories

alphagreen covid19 myths

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the world has been divided into many squads: from the firm belief that the virus is a severe danger of zoonotic origin till feeling that it was created in a lab and spread via 5G towers. Various conspiracy theories and media rumours popping here and there just confused global minds. Sociologists have named such an issue an infodemic, that is an overload of inaccurate and misleading information. The thing is that rumours gain more attention and spread faster than information from valid sources, which may challenge the pandemic crisis.

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In this article, we'll debunk the most widespread and the most unexpected myths and conspiracy theories so that you can stay both forewarned and forearmed.

What are the most common myths?

Vaccines and antibiotics may prevent and treat the coronavirus

alphagreen covid19 myths

It seems that COVID-19 and the flu have much in common. Both are viral infections, can spread via airborne droplets, and have similar symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, such as pneumonia. Unfortunately, vaccination can prevent the flu but is helpless in case of SARS-CoV-2. The good thing is that the Influenza vaccine may prevent suffering from both diseases at the same time. SARS-CoV-2 is so new and unknown that it requires its own vaccine. Common ones, such as the pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, can't protect against the novel coronavirus. As SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, antibiotics should not be used to prevent or treat the disease. Even though antibiotics don't work against viruses, they can be used if COVID-19 patients have bacterial co-infection.

So far, there is no vaccine available for the SARS-CoV-2. Many pharmaceutical companies have joined the race and began to develop the vaccine. As the virus is new, developing safe and effective vaccines takes time.

Masks and gloves can protect against coronavirus

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You can wear masks, hate them or doubt their efficacy. Whatever your attitude is, face masks have become part of everyday life, at least for the near future. There are masks for any taste: from surgical masks to more stylish options with Baby Yoda and pictures of contemporary artists, from the music industry to the art world, artists have spotted an opportunity. The WHO doesn't recommend face masks for healthy people to protect against COVID-19 though local regulations of various countries may vary. Some face masks are not tight enough to cover the nose and mouth and may encourage people to touch the face more to readjust their masks.

However, masks are recommended for people feeling ill, to help reduce the spread of the virus and healthcare workers, working with infected patients.

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Some cover options such as models of professional respirators N95 can help protect medical staff, but there simply aren't enough of those to go around at the moment.

Rubber gloves are of no better help as they can become contaminated and if you touch your face when wearing them, you risk getting the infection. Washing your hands with soap remains a better option.

Vitamins and supplements can support your immunity 

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That is a controversial question. Normally, the immune system is finely tuned and doesn't require additional support. It can limit the ability of viruses, bacteria, and parasites to cause infection and excessive immune responses leading to autoimmune disorders.

On the one hand, vitamins and supplements can help in some health conditions such as malnourishment.

Randomised control studies in people, who were taking vitamin D, have shown a lowered risk of respiratory infections in people lacking this vitamin and reduced the risk of infection in those with normal vitamin D levels. Studies on vitamin C, the most popular supplement during flu season, have shown to lower the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.

It should be noted that no supplement, vitamin, or diet can treat or prevent COVID-19 and should be taken according to the medical recommendation.

Hand sanitisers can kill the novel virus

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You've probably seen the empty shelves in pharmacies and stores. However, there is no need to buy up all the sanitisers. Indeed, sanitisers can help out when you are outdoors or on the road. They're commonly used in the hospital setting to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses between patients by hospital staff. According to the study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, alcohol-based hand rub can effectively kill the novel coronavirus. However, some conditions should be considered: use the sanitisers recommended by the World Health Organisation and apply it on the hands for 30 seconds. The WHO recommends two formulas for sanitisers: the first one includes 80% ethanol, 1.45% glycerol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide; the second - (2) 75% 2-propanol, 1.45% glycerol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide.

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Overusing a sanitiser can make your hands too clean and increase the risk to be exposed to germs and bacteria. Hand dryers can't kill COVID-19, and it's better to use paper towels after washing your hands. Soap and water remove dirt and germs more effectively. They are also better at saving the "good" bacteria or flora on your hands. 

Children can't catch the novel coronavirus

alphagreen covid19 myths

The likelihood of children to catch and spread coronavirus is discussed a lot when it comes to deciding when to reopen schools. Unfortunately, being young and beautiful won't protect against the novel coronavirus. The good thing is that children and teens are less likely to contract the virus than adults, which contradicts the idea that children can play a significant role in spreading the new disease. Usually, the virus causes a milder infection in kids than in adults or older people. There have also been cases of children developing more severe symptoms. For that reason, they require the same preventative measures, just like older people.

Coronavirus is only dangerous for elderly people

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The virus is tricky as it can infect people of all ages. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others:

  • People in 65+ years range
  • People with concurrent health conditions, such as heart conditions, chronic lung diseases, obesity, diabetes, immunocompromised conditions, chronic liver and kidney diseases. 

People from these groups can get infected easier and have more complications and require special care. Therefore, WHO recommends people of all ages to take steps to take precautionary measures, such as proper hand and respiratory hygiene. 

Chlorine and alcohol can kill coronaviruses

alphagreen covid19 myths

While chlorine and alcohol can be useful to disinfect surfaces, they can damage clothes, eyes, mouths, and skin. People should always follow instructions carefully and only use as directed. Therefore, rumours telling that spraying chlorine and alcohol over your body can kill COVID-19 are fake. Moreover, COVID-19, just as other respiratory viruses, infect people through the nose, eyes or mouth. So, spraying cleaning substances over your body can cause more harm than benefits. As for the alcohol, a very high level of alcohol is needed to kill the novel virus, and considering the concentration in alcoholic drinks, the required level would kill a person before killing the virus.

Public transport is a breeding ground for the novel disease

alphagreen covid19 myths

In most cases, public transport is unavoidable. To protect yourself, keep the personal distance, avoid the crowds and stay away from coughing and sneezing people. 

Scientific research has shown that the novel coronavirus can stay on surfaces for several days. As for transport, the virus can potentially contaminate various surfaces for the following amount of time:

  • metal (handles) - 5 days
  • glass (windows) - 5 days
  • plastics (seat handles and buttons) - 2-3 days  
  • copper (coins) - 4 hours

You can potentially get the virus by touching the contaminated surface in transport and then touching your face. Therefore, wash your hands with warm water and soap as soon as you have access to a bathroom.

The vaccine may prevent COVID-19

alphagreen covid19 myths

Indeed, the vaccine is one of the global aims and hopes in the time of the pandemic. However, scientists all over the world work on alternative treatments. Here are three major approaches to vaccine development: 

  • create a whole virus vaccine to cause a prompt immune response to a new infection;
  • develop an S-spike protein vaccine that can sensitise the immune system to certain subunits of the virus; 
  • make a nucleic acid vaccine (DNA or RNA vaccines).

So far, vaccine candidates haven't completed clinical trials, though multiple potential vaccines are in progress. The good news is that scientists work on other alternative treatments:

  • Antiviral medications. Current trials consider the potential of the available on the market drugs, including Remdesevir and Chloroquine, and their possible repurposing into medications against COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies also work on entirely new medications for the novel disease.
  • Anti-cytokine drugs. Some medications, such as Tocilizumab and hydroxychloroquine, may calm cytokine storms, relieving severe coronavirus complication.
  • Passive antibodies. This approach means providing the patients with purified and concentrated antibodies made by the immune systems of people recovered from COVID-19. This is a method of passive immunisation.

High temperatures can fight coronavirus disease

alphagreen covid19 myths

Don't rush into a hot bathtub or steam room. No doubt it will help to unwind and not to think about the coronavirus crisis, but it won't kill the COVID-19. The University of Aix-Marseille in France did some research and found out that coronavirus can survive in temperatures of up to 60°C for a long time. Therefore, standard disinfection methods, such as heating to such a high temperature for an hour, may be ineffective against the novel coronavirus. To kill the virus, researchers had to expose it to 92°C for a quarter of an hour.

The thing is that the average body temperature stays in the range of 36.6 - 37°C, regardless of the heat of the weather or bath. Exposure to extreme temperatures can be dangerous. That disproves the previous belief that COVID-19 virus has low chances to transmit in areas with hot and humid weather. Cold water or weather can't kill the novel virus as there is just a minimal reduction in virus concentration after 21 days at 4°C and -80°C in the lab conditions. Still, the good way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to clean your hands often and follow local protective measures.

Home remedies can beat the novel virus

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No need to check the dark corners of your kitchen, searching for possible remedies. Garlic, lemons, a bottle of whiskey or salty water - whatever you have, it can't prevent or treat the novel coronavirus even if you mix all of the ingredients. 

Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can harm your health and make you more susceptible to further health problems. Rinsing the nose with salty water is thought to be useful during flu season, but can't protect from COVID-19. This home remedy can help recover quicker from the cold, but rinsing the nose with saline has no proof to prevent respiratory infections. 

One of the rumours claimed that COVID-19 couldn't live in an acidic environment so that drinking lemon juice may kill it. The idea is that lemon can raise the body's pH level, which is deadly for the virus. The scientific research has found that the virus can survive in acidic environments. Therefore, no gargling with or drinking lemon juice can be useful in killing coronavirus.

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Garlic has proven to be a healthy food with potential antimicrobial properties. Unfortunately, no evidence shows that consuming garlic may protect against the novel coronavirus. The only thing it may be of any help is pushing away potentially infected people due to strong smell.

Other home remedies and rituals such as burning sage, holding the breath and sipping water every 15 minutes are also of no help. Still, the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to follow the advice from the trusted sources, such as the WHO recommendations.

5G and radio waves can spread the virus

alphagreen covid19 myths

Several British 5G towers were set on fire due to belief they could spread coronavirus. However, false conspiracy theories neglected the fact that the novel coronavirus has hit counties where 5G is not available.

In real life, the fear of invisible waves provokes such rumours. In the past, radio waves were believed to cause severe diseases such as cancer. In fact, radio waves have the lowest frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum, even lower than UV waves. They are safer than other types of waves and not strong enough to damage DNA inside cells and cause severe diseases. As for the COVID-19, the disease spreads mainly via airborne droplets that are not present in radio waves. It is possible to catch the virus via contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface. So relax, turn on the radio and avoid contact with people who cough or sneeze. 

Can CBD & Cannabis help with COVID-19?

alphagreen covid19 myths

The rumours about cannabis may kill novel coronavirus have started with a joke in social media. Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri posted on Twitter a screenshot saying 'Breaking News: Weed kills coronavirus.' Users believed the claims and began reposting promising news via social media. Unfortunately, these claims have proven to be a myth. So far, there is no broad research on cannabis or CBD products and coronavirus. However, cannabis has the potential to affect the immune system positively and benefit people in the time of the pandemic.

How does cannabidiol affect the endocannabinoid system?

alphagreen covid19 myths

This is one of the most important body systems that help to keep the body in balance, including the immune system regulation. Cannabinoid receptors, named CB1 and CB2, are parts of ECS. They can be found on immune cells, in the organs and tissues. If the body is healthy, naturally produced endocannabinoids help to keep normal immune system functions. Cannabinoids may suppress the excessive activity of the immune cells, such as relieving inflammation when immune cells respond to an injury.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most active compounds of Cannabis Sativa and Indica plants. CBD can help regain the balance, replacing the missing endocannabinoids, and benefit the immune system. CBD products may cause bidirectional effect, acting oppressively and stimulating on the immune system.

CBD's suppressive effect

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Studies have shown that cannabis compounds may suppress the immune system. This effect can be useful or not helpful depending on the health condition. What concerns infections and viruses, inflammation helps to prevent them from spreading within the body. In case the inflammation goes out of control, it can bring more harm than good. For people whose immune system is unbalanced and attacks the healthy cells, CBD can lower the strength of such symptoms. Such imbalances may happen in autoimmune diseases, including fibromyalgia and diabetes. 

CBD's stimulating effect

alphagreen covid19 myths

CBD consumption may benefit our immune system, helping it to strengthen the response of the body to the disease and alleviate symptoms. The study on humans who have AIDS/HIV has shown that cannabis consumption might benefit immune systems and increase the level of T cells, important components of the adaptive immune system. The studies on medical marijuana for immunocompromised people have shown its immuno-enhancing effect

Destroying infected cells

The study on mice with cancer states that cannabis may induce apoptosis, programmed death of cancerogenous cells. CBD can also cause apoptosis by natural and synthetic cannabinoids via activation of CB2 receptors.

Regulation of immune responses

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Endocannabinoids can amplify or attenuate the activity of the immune system, helping to maintain the body's homeostasis. CBD can modify the response of cannabinoid receptors.

CBD may suppress excessive and regulate ineffective immune responses, making them more potent or less harmful. Cannabidiol may be useful in immune response regulation in autoimmune diseases.

A study of New York City's Mount Sinai School of Medicine has stated that cannabinoids could prevent specific viruses from infecting the cells of the immune system and reduce the amount of infected cells.

Therefore, the interaction between ECS and cannabis may influence the immune system. On the cellular level, cannabidiol may potentially strengthen the body's immune system.

What to consider before CBD intake?

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In many cases, cannabis and CBD interact with the immune cells differently, and these conditions are dose-related. CBD products may be useful for the immune system when taken regularly. However, there is evidence showing that cannabidiol may inhibit the activation of T-lymphocytes and reduce the cellular immune response in healthy people.

On the other hand, if CBD is taken in lower doses, it can help the immune system overcome health problems. Therefore, proper dosing is important. In any case, prior consultation with a doctor on CBD and cannabis intake is required.

The most popular COVID-19 conspiracy theories

alphagreen covid19 myths

As the COVID-19 keeps infecting bodies and occupying minds, the world is at risk of infodemic. Conspiracy theories and fake news gain more attention and spread in the media with the same speed as the novel coronavirus does offline. Here are the most popular conspiracy theories.

Bill Gates is to blame

Some time ago, one of the richest men in the world and his wife founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, making a name in philanthropy and public health. Aside from all, the foundation funds vaccinations. Since the pandemic outbreak, Gates has pledged over $300 million in total commitments, including distribution of treatments and vaccines in the developing world. The foundation has also established the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator to study the potential treatments for the novel virus. On the one hand, that became an example of how billionaire philanthropy can handle critical work. On the other hand, conspiracy theories about Bill Gates were in the media spotlight: as the New York Times stated, they got over 1.2 million mentions in the previous two months. Some conspiracy theorists believe he directed the whole pandemic, to inject people with a surveillance system as part of the new vaccines.

alphagreen covid19 myths

Their suspicions were based on a TED talk that Bill Gates gave in 2015, warning of a potential worldwide pandemic. Gates reminded of the Ebola outbreak that led to thousands of deaths, mentioned the factors that slowed down the disease spread, and predicted a more contagious pandemic.

Social media burst in multiple debates, discussing the vaccine's safety and sharing the posts with hashtag #BillGatesVaccine, claiming nobody will use this vaccine. Surprisingly, Bill Gates refused to give an interview with the New York Times on coronavirus-related conspiracy theories, and during the GCTN interview said "it's ironic" in response to the conspiracies.

The virus was created in a Chinese laboratory

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Indeed, the Chinese Wuhan became the epicentre of the epidemic. No wonder, one of the conspiracy theories was claiming that the novel coronavirus was developed in Chinese laboratories. Following the studies of bat coronaviruses, the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell under suspicion, where scientists studied the potential emergence of a global pandemic. As Fox News stated, one of the scientists spread the virus in the city. Further genetic sequencing has demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 did not match any of the virus samples available at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

COVID-19 was also rumoured to be a bioweapon made by Chinese scientists. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey and found out that three-in-ten Americans believe that COVID-19 was developed in a lab, either intentionally or accidentally. The rumour of the Chinese origin of the virus is widespread among politicians in the US. This myth was debunked by the further proof of a zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2 due to its molecular structure. The scientific analysis in the Nature Medicine journal has also explained the natural origin of the novel virus. 

The virus is the US bioweapon

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There is a different theory that the novel virus has US origin. This belief is based on different randomly mixed facts, such as the US biological research centre Fort Detrick. In 2019 it shut down due to failed safety procedures in handling pathogens. Previously, Fort Detrick centre was a star of various anti-US conspiracy theories. In real life, the Fort Detrick closed due to poor management of wastewater. The US regulators stated that there were no leaks of dangerous material and no threat to public health.

The participation of the American soldiers at the World Military Games in Wuhan has also triggered suspicion. There was a rumour they could carry the virus to China. Mr Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, brought more attention to the issue when he tweeted that the US army could cause the epidemic in Wuhan. Such a theory could be useful for domestic propaganda, but the rest of the world didn't take these claims seriously.

COVID-19 doesn't exist

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One of the most popular memes on Reddit stated: "As long as you keep your eyes closed, it doesn't exist". This quote might become the motto of those who deny the novel coronavirus. These people firmly believe that the news on COVID-19 outbreak and death rates are fake, and the media and governments have fabricated the threat of the novel disease. 

PolitiFact, the US fact-checking organisation, has recently debunked a Facebook post indicated as part of Facebook's campaign to fight misinformation. The post with a "there is no virus" statement gained immense attention and was massively shared.

In response to fake claims, Facebook and other social media began to block misleading news, including COVID-19 denial claims. Those who adhere to this theory refuse to maintain social distancing and follow preventative measures. Therefore, they may potentially contribute to the virus spread. Still, there is strong evidence that the coronavirus is not fake and kills people all over the world. 

COVID-19 is the invention of pharmaceutical giants

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The pharmaceutical industry remains among the most profitable industries. Big Pharma is believed to prosper on public health. They were blamed for the total control and constant consumption of smaller businesses to ensure other drugs will never be marketed. Big Pharma is believed to focus on medications for wealthy consumers, rather than those for the poorest ones. Anti-vax and anti-GMO devotees also hold the interest towards such an issue. Some of them were banned from Google due to misinformation spread. NaturalNews is one of the conspiracist sites, claiming that traditional drugs are not effective, and Big Pharma make us ill intentionally. So far such claims have no scientific support.

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.