Doctors weighed in on some important coronavirus myth busting in a special feature for Medical News Today. These medical experts shared their opinions of some of the latest popular myths making their way into public discussions about COVID-19.
The following 10 new coronavirus myths were reviewed by Dr. E. Hanh Le, Dr. Lindsay Slowiczek, and Dr. Jenny Yu. Here is a roundup of their feedback for each one.
Myth #1: COVID-19 death rates are low in comparison to high rates of infections, so death from coronavirus is nothing to worry about.
Overall death rates for the country do not always paint an accurate picture of what’s happening in specific communities. Some areas have more and better hospitals, plus access to more virus testing and treatments. In those areas, death rates tend to be much lower compared to infection rates.
Death rates from COVID-19 also depend on the health and age of the people infected. Many more younger, healthier people are testing positive for COVID infections now than were reported when the pandemic began. This adds to the much higher infection rate compared to overall death rate for the US.
If you assume coronavirus is nothing to worry about because death rates are lower than infection rates, keep in mind a very important fact. Many people who survive their COVID infection are dealing with debilitating long-term symptoms and health conditions. Some of the milder symptoms post-recovery are fatigue, shortness of breath, and persistent cough. Life-threatening conditions after recovery from COVID can include blood clots, heart disease, and kidney and lung damage. Strokes have developed post-COVID, too, and have happened to people younger than 50 or even 40. Prevent getting the infection to avoid the possibility of these and more troubling symptoms after coronavirus recovery.
Myth #2: COVID was never that deadly to begin with.
As COVID-19 first began to spread across the United States, many people thought it was simply another virus with a low death rate like the flu. Very quickly, areas with high infection rates — like New York City — were out of hospital beds and ventilators, and losing patients at an alarming rate far beyond average flu deaths. It turns out COVID was far deadlier than the flu. As medical experts interviewed for Medical News Today stated “In our modern age, with the medications and technology that we have, even Ebola, swine flu, or avian flu could not bring the world to a standstill in the way that COVID-19 has.”
According to the Medical News Today article, “COVID-19 has killed more people (more than 218,000) in the first eight months of 2020 in the U.S. than influenza has in the last several flu seasons.” How deadly has the flu been over that time? The CDC estimates that 12,000–61,000 deaths related to the flu (influenza) have occurred every year since 2010. That’s undeniably much lower than the rate of deaths from COVID-19 in 2020 alone in this country.
Myth #3: Coronavirus symptoms aren’t worse than a bad flu.
Again, the symptoms and severity of COVID-19 can vary widely from person to person. Yes, some people experience symptoms similar to a bad flu, while others might have no noticeable symptoms at all and still be contagious. Unfortunately, many people infected with the virus do become seriously sick and end up on ventilators in the ICU. People at high risk for severe illness from COVID include those over age 65, people with pre-existing conditions like type 2 diabetes and COPD, plus smokers and people with severe obesity.
Myth #4: We’ll have COVID herd immunity very soon.
When the majority of the population achieves immunity to a virus, that’s when herd immunity is achieved. Medical experts say herd immunity would require at least 70% of people to become immune to COVID-19. The myth that we will achieve herd immunity from coronavirus soon is probably linked to the rate at which positive tests are reported. If we’re all getting the infection this quickly, then we should achieve herd immunity quickly, right? Probably not, say the doctors interviewed by Medical News Today. There simply isn’t enough proof yet that COVID immunity is long lasting once people recover from the infection.
Myth #5: Our immune systems are weakened by constant physical distancing.
First, as the doctors explained to Medical News Today, avoiding contact with sick people is a beneficial practice that has been used successfully for centuries with many different infectious diseases. Over time, our immune systems adapt naturally, as long as we take good care of our health. In the meantime, protocols like vaccinations help our immune systems become stronger against infection. “Research has also demonstrated that we can help our immune systems better fight off infection via controlled techniques, such as vaccination, which is more successful than allowing our immune systems to encounter illnesses in an uncontrolled way through random personal exposure.” stated the Medical News Today article.
Myth #6: 5G technology causes COVID-19 or makes it more severe.
Simply put, 5G is a digitized radio wave known as 5th generation technology for mobile phones. It works to improve the capabilities of modern broadband cellular networks. According to the doctors interviewed, the myth that 5G is a source of COVID-19 or causes severe coronavirus symptoms is completely unfounded. “There is no evidence to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between radio waves, their frequencies, and viral transmission.”
Myth #7: Face masks cause more problems than they prevent.
In hospitals and clinics, doctors and nurses have been using protective face masks for years to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that could cause infections. Medical experts say it works well in those situations, and does not limit oxygen intake or increase the intake of carbon dioxide, as some rumors claim. Thus, wearing face masks has proven for years to help prevent viral spread, and does so for COVID-19, as well. It’s important to wear your mask properly over the nose and tucked under the chin, select one made of thick fabric with no holes, and wash it in hot soapy water after use.
Myth #8: COVID-19 is already curable.
Though doctors are working with various medications and treatment protocols to help people recover from coronavirus, there isn’t a cure yet. Hopefully someday a cure will be found. Until then, clinical trials continue to determine the treatments that are safest and most effective for COVID-19. Medications like steroids and remdesivir have shown promise with severely ill patients. Convalescent plasma therapy as a treatment, using donated blood from people who recovered from the virus, is being studied, as well. Current treatments work differently for each patient, and aren’t fully effective for everyone.
Myth #9: Pharmaceutical corporations aren’t releasing the coronavirus vaccine.
Not true, say the experts. Vaccines for COVID-19 aren’t yet available. The studies take as long as they take to develop safe and effective vaccines, often many months or even years. Then, once a viable vaccine is ready, it takes even longer to manufacture and distribute vaccinations to the millions of people who need them. It’s also important to note that once a vaccine is available, it will first be given to essential workers (like healthcare staff) and individuals who most need it for survival. Be patient, stay informed, and continue protective protocols like handwashing, social distancing, and wearing your face mask.
Myth #10: COVID-19 and cytokine storms can be cured by steroids and antiviral meds.
Unfortunately, this myth is untrue, too. Though antivirals and steroids have proven helpful for treating COVID-19, they aren’t cures. With some patients, steroids have helped reduce the impact of cytokine storms, which are severe responses by the immune system where it attacks its own tissues and cells. Antivirals fight to combat viral infections, but aren’t cures either. And, as stated earlier, the effectiveness of a treatment can be different from person to person. How well an antiviral or steroid works to treat COVID can depend on the patient’s age, their pre-existing conditions, and even their mindset can be a factor in their recovery process.
The myths circulating about COVID-19 are born of fear and misinformation, which is understandable during a pandemic unlike any other spread of infection in our lifetime. Staying informed through reliable sources, about legitimate medical research, is the best way to avoid letting myths run amuck. When in doubt, check with respected and legitimate organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And continue to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus by following the important daily prevention practices.Related: COVID-19: 6 Ways to Tell If You’ve Lost Your Sense of Smell