UPDATED JUNE 15/2020
A lot of misinformation is floating around regarding COVID-19. In an effort to dispel some of this, I wanted to provide the answers to some common COVID-19 questions in one location. I will include links as appropriate to more information – because as usual I am not claiming to be an expert! As I come upon more misinformation & questions, I will update this page.
Q: Who is most affected by COVID-19?
Myth: Only older people are affected by COVID-19
A: Coronavirus can infect & affect anyone – yes, even those who are in their 20s. Actually, the illness itself is more highly reported in the US in those in the age group 20-44 at 49% than those >85 years old at only 6% (CDC link for stats – please note there is probably more up to date #s now available). Comparatively, the numbers in Canada are 21% for 20-39 and 15% for 40-49, whereas the 80+ group only accounts for 5% of cases currently (see more here). However, the complications of the illness tend to be more severe in older age groups, specifically the 65-84 year group, as well as those with other health conditions or immunosuppression. The other group that is more at risk is those who have recently travelled, including those who have been on cruises. Check your country or state/province’s websites, or the CDC/Government of Canada to determine what steps you need to take to protect yourself and others if you’ve recently travelled outside of your country.
Q: Does it affect babies and children?
Myth: Babies and children are not affected
Myth: Younger adults are most of the hospitalizations
A: Yes it can. Although in the US, <19 is the age group with the lowest reported illness and hospitalization. <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” aria-label=”Only 5% of cases occurred in this group, and Only 5% of cases occurred in this group, and <1% were hospitalized which is surprisingly good when compared to influenza illness and hospitalization in the same group. Similarly in Canada, only 4% of cases occurred in the 0-19 group. This doesn’t mean that babies and children cannot be infected – it just seems to be less commonly REPORTED (meaning that less babies/children are tested and/or have more mild symptoms) and less complicated. Your children should follow the same social distancing recommendations as you to reduce their risk and the risk of others.
I have seen the specific question re: why some children have been hospitalized for it (despite the reports of generally lower rates of children being affected)- again, the hospitalization rate in US and Canada has been low for this age group – it is likely that the cases of hospitalization or illness for these age groups is highly reported (because it’s less commonly severe, requiring hospitalization and so on). Additionally, children are hospitalized for influenza, pneumonia, RSV and other respiratory infections/illnesses, so it is not surprising if those who did contract a more severe form of COVID-19 (a respiratory illness) are hospitalized in some cases that require emergency care or further management assistance.
Q: Is loss of sense of smell a symptom of COVID-19?
Myth: Loss of sense of smell means I have COVID-19.
A: This can actually happen with many different respiratory infections, sinus problems, allergies and so on. It may happen with COVID-19 but just because it does happen does not mean you HAVE COVID-19. Call your local health authority or COVID hotline if you have concerning signs or symptoms (ie. more than just this symptom).
Q: Can I check if I have COVID-19 by holding my breath for 10 seconds?
Myth: If you can hold your breath for >10 seconds without coughing or feeling chest discomfort, you don’t have lung fibrosis or COVID-19.
A: Again – this is similar to above in that someone who has any respiratory infection may have difficulty holding their breath for >10 seconds. It does not indicate fibrosis necessarily, nor does it mean you without a doubt have COVID-19. Other factors may impact your ability to hold your breath too such as asthma or chronic lung diseases. This myth was debunked by Tarik Jasarevic from the WHO (however I can’t find the exact link to this so will update if I come upon it).
The symptoms of COVID-19 are: cough, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and difficulty breathing. Some gastrointestinal symptoms have been reported as well, including diarrhea. But other symptoms CAN happen so check with your provider if you feel unwell and are concerned. As previously mentioned – some people may be totally asymptomatic too, meaning they will present with no symptoms but still be infected.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Q: Can I safely breastfeed my infant if I have been exposed to COVID-19? What if I am positive for it?
I haven’t seen any myths associated with this, but this is a commonly asked question
A: Since COVID-19 is new, there are many questions that have been asked that only have preliminary answers. The current recommendations from the CDC regarding breastfeeding whether you have suspected COVID-19 or confirmed, is for the continuation of breastfeeding and for the mother to take proper precautions such as hand washing before each feeding (which is already recommended when breastfeeding) and wearing a face mask. If mom and baby are separated, breastfeeding can continue through pumping (use of their own pump is preferred) and following strict hand washing routines. After, similar to usual use, the parts of the pump should be cleaned (as it normally would). These recommendations are the same as those given by the WHO. Other options are to feed with formula or donated breast milk.
I mentioned this was preliminary because the testing this recommendation is based on is mostly from studies of a different coronavirus and what CDC describes as “limited” patients with COVID-19. They state that whether or not the virus can be transmitted from a COVID-19 positive mother via breast milk is still unknown.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK give the same recommendation as the CDC and the WHO – to continue breastfeeding and that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is passed through the breastmilk. As benefit seems to outweigh risk at this time, it is recommended to continue. These are the recommendations that Canada is also following.
How the Virus Spreads & Survives
Q: How does the virus spread?
Myth: COVID-19 can be killed by me if I drink hot water because it will be flushed down my throat into the stomach
A: Currently, it seems that COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets (although this seems to be up in the air, and it may also be spread by airborne routes during certain procedures). This means that is spread primarily through people coughing and sneezing, by people who are within 6 feet of each other. However, people who are asymptomatic can also carry and spread this virus; but they are more likely to spread it with symptoms because they are creating more respiratory droplets (based on current data). It may also be picked up from surfaces, after someone touches something then touches their face (eyes, mouth or nose) – but coughing and sneezing, and being in close contact with these droplets, are the main culprits.
To dispel this myth you have to understand the spread (as above) as well as how a virus works. Here is a good article from the University of Alabama in Huntsville on what a virus is and how it works. As a quick overview, viruses need a live host – once they have one, they enter a cell, release RNA and take over. They then create viral particles which are released and the virus spreads. So viruses enter the body through respiratory droplets in close proximity – they may enter through the throat but they don’t just hang out there, so drinking water (no matter the temperature, because it really doesn’t matter) won’t help you. But drinking water is good and normal so you should continue to drink water – for hydration (which is still important on a regular basis or if you think you are sick).
The other false part of this myth is that stomach acid would destroy the virus – it actually appears that, if it could be “swept” down into the stomach, it might not. Firstly, because another coronavirus was found, in one study done in 2012, to be somewhat resistant to the acid from a person’s stomach after they recently ate. It was also recently found that COVID-19 can infect the intestinal tract and is spread by the fecal-oral route in addition to by respiratory droplets.
Conclusion: drink water for hydration, but it won’t help you with COVID-19
Q: Do I need to wear a face mask and/or gloves in public to reduce my risk of getting COVID-19?
You should wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing, or if you usually wear a mask for another condition. If you are healthy, you do not need to wear a mask unless you are caring for an ill friend or loved one. This is all based on current WHO recommendations. Masks don’t offer as much protection as hand washing and if everyone wears a mask then those who really need it won’t have access to them because (as we can see because it is currently happening) supplies will run out.
The CDC also does not advise wearing a respirator in public – we need respirators and masks for our healthcare professionals on the frontline! Please save these resources for them or else there will not be anyone to care for those who fall ill – that may seem severe, but it is true.
A better way to decrease the risk of spread to you in public is to NOT go out in public, or if you must to use an essential service, maintain a safe distance (>6 feet) from others. Other recommendations from the CDC include: washing your hands with soap and water (properly!), staying away from sick people, and not touching your face.
If you are sick – you should ALSO stay home and cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your elbow. Contact your workplace if you are symptomatic and see what steps you need to take. Ask a friend or family member to do groceries for you, or see if there are local services to help with this.
Similarly, gloves are not necessary for the lay public as per current WHO recommendations. Similarly to masks, these may make people feel like they’re protecting themselves when they actually are not decreasing their risk – so although this may be good for your mental calmness, it’s not actually helpful and provides a false sense of security, while also using necessary resources for healthcare professionals. Gloves are recommended when caring for an ill person or interacting with their environment.
*Of note – there was one study that was brought to my attention that looked at mask use during an influenza outbreak. With 80% compliance, it actually appeared to be effective in stopping the outbreak. You can see the abstract for that study here. I bring this up because I’ve seen a lot of debate as of recent on Twitter about the mask issue. It does seem that there is doctors who believe mask-wearing by all may be helpful – but this doesn’t seem to be supported by the majority of existing research, hence why it is not recommended by the WHO, CDC or Health Canada. Still – interesting to think about and more research is needed. Either way – we are currently VERY short on supplies in North America, so currently all our supplies should go to those most in need – healthcare professionals and actually sick people!
Q: Can my dog give me coronavirus?
Myth: Dogs can get coronavirus and give it to me
The confusion with this probably arises from the fact that SARS and MERS were both animal coronaviruses that passed onto humans. It is suspected that COVID-19 also arose from an animal market, as the first few cases are associated with attendance at once. But currently there is no definite source.
If you are still worried, practice hand washing precautions after touching or being around animals. Additionally if you are sick, the CDC actually advises that you minimize contact with animals like you would with people – even though there hasn’t been any reported cases of human to pet transmission for COVID-19.
Q: How long can COVID-19 survive on surfaces?
Myth: I have seen estimates that it can survive up to 3 days on surfaces
A: New research has shown that this virus appears to survive on surfaces for “several hours to days“, form/surface dependent. The longest surface life seems to be on stainless steel and plastics, of up to 3 days. Cardboard was about one day, and copper only several hours. Aerosolized, the study found that the virus can survive almost as long as it can on copper (~3 hrs), which is scary.
So this myth isn’t wrong – but keep in mind it is surface dependent and based on one study currently. Also you don’t need to avoid doing things you would normally do because of a fear of surface transmission. Surface transmission is possible, but it’s not as likely a route of transmission if you’re taking precautions – so just wash your hands, don’t touch your face and if you urgently need gas for your car, please get it (but also follow physical & social distancing guidelines).
Q: Who needs to practice social distancing?
Myth: Social distancing doesn’t apply to me because (various reasons)
A: Everyone. Every. One. Yes you, and you. Your brother, sister, aunt, second-cousin twice removed. We all need to be practicing social distance (if your government has mandated this – I assume most of my readers are from areas that have). You should only be interacting with people in your household. If you must leave the house for essentials than you should be maintaining a 6 ft/2 m distance between you and anyone else. Where possible efforts should be made to work from home. You may have noticed that many schools have closed or gone to an online format in the upper levels – this is social distancing.
What you should NOT do is hangout in groups of people who are not in your household. This includes your family you don’t live with – there are certain cases where it may be necessary to visit older family members to provide assistance or if you are a caregiver. Here is some information on caregiving during this time. You should also not be having playdates for your children with other children – again, I know this sucks because you’re now stuck at home trying to work with your children at home with you but it’s for the best. Here is a great read on that. Try to enjoy the family time you do get, and maybe look up some activities for the kids to keep them busy. Pinterest has a ton of stuff and lots of things can be ordered from Amazon!
A special note – you CAN go for walks outside, with your household unit or alone with your dog. Don’t walk with other people and maintain the distancing as advised. Enjoy the outdoors.
*FYI* IF YOU HAVE BEEN ADVISED TO QUARANTINE OR ISOLATE YOURSELF THERE ARE DIFFERENT INSTRUCTIONS. Here is guidance for Canadians; and here is guidance for Americans for travel OR here is guidance for those who are sick.
Q: How are 5G and COVID-19 related?
Myth: 5G waves are the cause of COVID-19.
A: To get straight to the point – they are not related.
This “theory” is farfetched to say the least, but is also a reflection of fear. Some people have a fear of 5G, likely because it is an invisible form of radiation. This fear seems to stem from a misunderstanding of radiation and the “type” that is involved in 5G (low energy). I linked this just now above, but for more information on this myth and 5G radiation see this article. I’m not an expert on radiation so I frankly don’t feel comfortable digging into this too much, hence the link. What I can tell you is that there is really no link between the two – the article points to many important facts, including that many of the countries hit hard by COVID-19 don’t have 5G or use it very little. If this link was true, how would you explain that? Seriously – check out the article, it’s a good read in regards to all conspiracy theories (Bill Gates, etc.) regarding COVID.
Medication and Other Conditions
Q: Can I safely take ibuprofen if I think I might have COVID-19?
Myth: Ibuprofen will increase symptoms of and worsen COVID-19 infection
A: There is currently no evidence supporting this claim. As this is medication related, if you have any questions about any medication you are currently taking OR are wondering what to take – I suggest speaking to your healthcare provider by phone. Many are also offering unique telemedicine connections at this time to minimize office visits and to allow for social distancing.
Q: Should I be taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for prevention?
Myth: As per TRUMP, this is the “cure” to COVID-19.
A: DO NOT TAKE DRUGS UNLESS YOU ARE PRESCRIBED THEM BY A PHYSICIAN! There was a small study done on this (I say small because it had a small sample size) and there is more information coming out everyday and differing opinions exist, however – no drugs should be taken unless they are prescribed by a doctor. You may or may not be a good candidate for these – but this is something you would of course discuss with a healthcare provider. So the quick answer is NO don’t take these preventatively.
Q: Can you develop immunity to COVID-19?
I haven’t been able to find an answer to this yet because it doesn’t appear there is one at this moment in time. If we base it off the case of other coronaviruses, it is still even questionable. One study showed that you could become ill with the same coronavirus again, despite being previously infected. It does appear that the participants developed some resistance but not long-term immunity.
In this section I will include any links to good websites, articles/abstracts and so on that I come upon that are COVID-19 related, but not necessarily related to any myth or question.
Click here for info on Asthma and COVID-19.
Click here for the NHS guidelines for working during pregnancy (if your employer or health agency hasn’t issued any guidance, these may be useful for comparison & reference)
*Please note – there is a lot of argument regarding working while pregnant during this pandemic, so look for guidance from your health agency, or your employer. There are lots of individual considerations as well that YOU must think of – including your feeling of safety in the workplace.