Dispelling the myths around the new coronavirus outbreak

Spread of new type of coronavirus from China accompanied by misinformation and fake claims online.

Passengers arriving on a China Southern Airlines flight from Changsha in China are screened for the new type of coronavirus, whose symptoms are similar to the cold or flu and many other illnesses, upo
Passengers arriving from Changsha in China are screened for the new type of coronavirus [Patrick Ngugi/ AP]

A new coronavirus outbreak, thought to have originated in China‘s central city of Wuhan, has spread to two dozen countries across the globe, killing more than 350 people and infecting thousands.

All but one of the deaths from the virus have occurred in China and the vast majority of the infections- more than 17,000 cases – have also been reported there. The coronavirus, labelled 2019-nCoV, was first detected in late December.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus epidemic in China a public health emergency of international concern. But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency’s director-general, said the main reason for the designation was not “because of what is happening in China” but “the potential for this virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it”.

The rapid spread of 2019-nCoV has been accompanied by misinformation and hoaxes online, including false claims about its source, its spread and how to treat it – a dangerous development, according to doctors and health experts. 

Here are four myths the global health agency has busted on the current outbreak.

Myth: Antibiotics are effective in treating the new coronavirus

Administering antibiotics does not help because they only work against bacteria, not viruses.

2019-nCoV is a virus.

Some patients may have antibiotics administered to them in hospital if a bacterial co-infection, which is possible in some cases, occurs.

Myth: Herbal remedies and other drugs can help treat the new virus 

There is no specific medicine recommended to treat the new virus, according to WHO.

“However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care,” the agency said.

“Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners,” it added.

The agency urged people to follow best practices in hand and respiratory hygiene and handling food in order to reduce exposure to and transmission of the new virus. They include frequently cleaning hands, avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough, and avoiding the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. 

Myth: New coronavirus only affects older people

People of all ages can be infected by the virus.

However, the WHO said older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions – such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease – appear to be more vulnerable to falling severely ill with the coronavirus.

Myth: Pets can spread the new coronavirus

There is no evidence at present to suggest that pets such as dogs and cats can be infected with the new virus.

The WHO, however, recommends washing your hands with soap and water after contact with pets to protect against common bacteria that can pass between pets and humans.

Source: Al Jazeera