explainer

From 'miracle' minerals to 'useless' hand soap: myths about preventing COVID-19, busted.

There is no cure for COVID-19.

So as the number of cases rise in Australia and around the world, people are understandably searching for ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of unqualified people out there ready to oblige with advice, most of which is completely unfounded and potentially dangerous.

Mamamia‘s daily news podcast, The Quicky, scoured social media for some of the most persistent myths and misinformation, and brought in an actual expert to address them: GP Dr Brad McKay.

Watch: The Quicky’s Claire Murphy answers your COVID-19 questions.

Video by Mamamia

But first, a reminder… According to the World Health Organisation, legitimate ways to protect yourself from COVID-19 include:

  • practise social distancing;
  • avoid touching your face;
  • regularly wash your hands with soap and water (and do it thoroughly, for at least 40 seconds);
  • cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.

MYTH: Drinking hot water every 15 minutes will kill coronavirus.

A viral list of ‘coronavirus-prevention’ tips, which has been shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is filled with questionable advice from unreliable sources. Among them: drinking hot fluids regularly “will sweep [the virus] away through the esophagus and into the stomach. Once in the belly, gastric acid in the stomach will kill all the virus.”

Dr Brad McKay said the claim is wrong on “multiple levels”.

“If you’re exposed to the virus, then generally the receptors that the virus hooks onto are down deep in your lungs. That’s why we say that if you’re smelling somebody’s breath, you’re probably too close to them; even their breath can contain coronavirus.

“So the viral particles, you actually breathe in, into your lungs. It doesn’t hibernate in your throat before going to the rest of your body.”

MYTH: Breathing in hot air from a hairdryer will kill coronavirus in your lungs.

One of the more bizarre — and potentially dangerous — claims circulating online is that breathing in hot air will kill any COVID-19 in your lungs and throat.

In one particularly baffling video, a man (who is absolutely not a medical doctor) suggested drinking hot water, sitting in a sauna or blasting a hairdryer up your nose to ward off coronavirus infection.

Listen: Epxerts answer your most pressing questions about the novel coronavirus.

It’s a bunch of hot air. So please, don’t do it. Ever.

“If you’re pointing the hairdryer up your nose or down your throat, [to kill viral particles] you’d really have to have it on a temperature that was so high that it would burn you. And we really don’t advise you to do that,” Dr McKay said.”I don’t want anyone burning their lungs.”

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MYTH: An air purifier will protect you against COVID-19.

An air purifier will suck in and filter out any COVID-19 droplets that might be in the air.

As Dr McKay explained, it may be minimally helpful but there are no guarantees. Any effectiveness depends entirely on the size of the room and how many people are in it.

Instead, save your money and practise something far more effective: social distancing. That is, keep 1.5 metres away from other people. This is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via viral droplets — basically, fluid that comes from our nose and mouth when we cough, sneeze or breathe.

“Some viruses, like measles, can just linger in the air for hours and hours. But what we find with coronavirus is that it needs to be contained within these droplets, and the droplets will normally fall within about a meter-and-a-half from somebody who is infected,” Dr McKay said.

“And so, if you’re well beyond about a meter-and-a-half from somebody else, then you’re very unlikely to have the virus float around and hit you in the face.”

MYTH: Non-antibacterial soap is useless.

We know maintaining hand hygiene is one of the most important things we, as individuals, can do to protect ourselves and the community from COVID-19.

That means regularly washing our hands for at least 40 seconds (particularly after using the bathroom or coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces, like door handles and lift/crosswalk buttons), using a high-alcohol hand sanitiser, and not shaking hands or high-fiving with others.

But there have been claims that ordinary hand soap won’t cut it, and you should only use anti-bacterial soap.

“The whole thing about using soap and water is the physical difference that you’re making,” Dr McKay said. “So you’re not actually killing the virus from using the soap; you’re just causing a physical disturbance and you’re helping to wash it down the sink and away from you.

“So you don’t necessarily need to use antiseptic soap. Just using soap and water is fine.”

MYTH: Hand sanitser isn’t effective against COVID-19.

This one is likely to be the result of confusion around some legitimate advice.

According to health authorities, hand sanitiser is absolutely advised as part of an ideal hand-hygiene regimen — particularly after coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces. But to be effective, it must have at least: 60 per ethanol or 70 per cent isopropanol.

“I think if you’ve got a hand gel and it doesn’t have a high alcohol content that you might not be doing all that much. That can give people a false sense of security,” Dr McKay said. “So certainly try and use soap and water if you don’t have any antiseptic gel to take out with you.”

That’s also where masks can be beneficial. If you’re out and about, say on public transport, without high-alcohol sanitiser, a mask can serve as a barrier to stop you touching your face. (That’s one way infections can occur: touching a contaminated surface, then introducing the virus to your body via your nose, mouth or eyes.)

“It’s a good reminder and can stop us from inadvertently picking our nose or picking our teeth in case we’ve got some coronavirus on our hands,” Dr McKay added.

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MYTH: ‘Miracle minerals’ can wipe out coronavirus.

In recent weeks, YouTuber Jordan Sather has been claiming that a “miracle mineral supplement” (MMS) can kill coronavirus.

In a tweet shared in January, Sather claimed, “Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka MMS) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too”.

Chlorine dioxide is a chemical found in bleach, which has long been advertised online as a “treatment”.

Miracle mineral supplements can cause major reactions, including vomiting, severe nausea, diarrhea and dehydration.

In recent years, health authorities around the world have been forced to issue alerts about the dangers of drinking MMS.

MYTH: A flu shot will prevent you from getting coronavirus.

There have been persistent pleas from the medical community that people get their influenza vaccine this year. There have also been comments comparing the symptoms of COVID-19 to the flu.

Somewhere in the mix of it all, assumptions have been made by some that the flu shot can ward off COVID-19. But that’s not the case.

As Dr McKay explained, they are two separate infections.

“We are advising everybody to get the influenza vaccination and to get it as soon as you can. Because what we’re worried about is everyone getting coronavirus and also getting influenza as well. If you get both viral infections — and this is what we’ve seen in other countries — it could be disastrous because it’s two infections that your body is trying to fight off at the same time, and they could both cause pneumonia and breathing difficulties.

“So getting a flu vaccine won’t protect you against coronavirus — we’re still working on a vaccine that could do that — but it could stop you from dying or ending up in hospital.”

READ MORE:

Australia’s death toll rises to 7 and everything else you need to know about COVID-19 today, Friday March 20.

From bioweapon claims to Oprah’s ‘arrest’: 5 major conspiracies about COVID-19, debunked.

Sore throat? Cough? A doctor explains what to do if you have coronavirus-like symptoms.

Who is most at risk? All your burning questions about COVID-19 answered by an expert.

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Getty.

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