Plus, the steps you should be taking to prevent COVID-19.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Mar 23, 2020 @ 6:30 pm
Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

It's hard to imagine what we talked about before coronavirus introduced an entirely new lexicon. In the past few weeks, terms like social distancing, shelter in place, and flattening the curve have become trending hashtags and coronavirus headlines have dominated our news feeds. But with so much corona virus-related content out there and so many people looking for answers in an uncertain time, it can also be hard to decipher what's scientific fact, and what's simply a misguided tweet gone viral.

For starters, here’s a recap of what we do know right now: There are currently more than 15,000 coronavirus (aka COVID-19) deaths globally. In the United States, both mandated and self-quarantining is in full effect. Northern California has placed nearly 7 million residents in the San Francisco Bay area under a shelter-in-place order, with exemptions for essential activities. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that required people to stay home, excluding those who offer essential services, such as pharmacies and grocery stores. Other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, have enacted similarly strict measures, while other states are continuing to follow suit.

“COVID-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets like sneezes and coughs,” says Nate Favini, M.D., the medical lead of Forward, a preventive primary care practice. “It is not yet known whether non-respiratory body fluids (e.g. blood, vomit, urine, breast milk or semen) from an infected person transmit the virus.” (Which is why Dr. Favini recommends washing your hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds after coming into contact with any bodily fluids.)

The virus has also been found to be stable for several hours to days in aerosols (examples include fog or dust that holds particles in the air) and on surfaces, according to a new study released on Tuesday by a combination of scientists affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UCLA, and Princeton University.

Ahead, health experts weed through some of the biggest myths floating around about coronavirus — and break down what you need to know to keep yourself safe in the weeks and months ahead.

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Can Ibuprofen Increase My Risk of Getting Coronavirus?

It was a study published in a highly-respected medical journal, The Lancet, earlier this month that first caused this suggestion to spread widely, says Erika Schwartz. M.D., founder of Evolved Science.

“The authors suggested that using NSAIDs (Ibuprofen being one of them) may increase vulnerability to coronavirus,” Dr. Schwartz says. “There has been no substantiation or follow up to the claim.”

Dr. Schwartz says her take on this, however, sways on the side of avoiding ibuprofen, but not because of its relation to COVID-19. “Ibuprofen and the other NSAIDs are widely used to decrease inflammation and fever and are associated with many side effects like gastritis, ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeds,” she says. “Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) works as well on fevers and has none of the side effects.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) retracted its original statement that people avoid ibuprofen as a result of its link to coronavirus. The organization wrote on Twitter: “Based on currently available information, the WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen.”

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Is My Blood Type Linked to an Increased Risk of Coronavirus?

There is some preliminary research that shows about 45 percent of people from Wuhan who contracted and died from coronavirus had type A blood, Dr. Schwartz says. These same researchers also suspect people with type A blood are more susceptible to the virus and develop more severe symptoms, she explains.

“Having said that, the study was on around 250 people, was never peer-reviewed and doesn't take into account what the distribution of blood type is in that area of China,” Dr. Schwartz says.

Bottom line: Blood type doesn't appear to be a significant risk driver mand having type A blood should not make you more worried about contracting coronavirus.

Can Rinsing Your Nose with Saline Protect Against Coronavirus? 

While there is some evidence that suggests rinsing the nose regularly with saline solution can speed up a case of the common cold, there is no proof that the same practice can protect against coronavirus, says Edo Paz, M.D., vice president of medical at K Health.

Dr. Schwartz agrees, adding that using saline on a regular basis could be counterproductive, instead irritating your nose. As an alternative, she recommends keeping your mouth and nasal passages moist — which can keep a virus from getting into your lungs — by “drinking lots of water and staying extremely well-hydrated.”

“The sign of being well hydrated is that your urine is colorless and you urinate every couple of hours,” she says, adding that you should keep from overdoing it on alcohol, caffeine, and tea, all of which can be dehydrating.

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Can Vinegar Kill Coronavirus? 

While white vinegar diluted with water might be your go-to when you’re looking for a natural day-to-day cleaner, Consumer Reports notes that it shouldn't be used to wipe out COVID-19.

“Vinegar is not recommended to disinfect from coronavirus. Alcohol is the best disinfectant and should be left on the surface to be disinfected for a while then wiped off,” Dr. Schwartz says. 

Instead, the CDC recommends disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces daily, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Use a diluted bleach solution, cleaners that include at least 70 percent alcohol, or other household disinfectants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Can Temperature Kill Off Coronavirus?

You may have heard the one about how cold weather can kill coronavirus... or that hot weather thwarts coronavirus cases, but experts say it’s just not true. “Coronavirus seems to thrive in any kind of temperature,” Dr. Schwartz says.

Just look to the news for clues, she says — new coronavirus cases are popping up everywhere in the world, regardless of climate.

I’m Young, So I’m OK, Right?

This one is, perhaps, the biggest myth among millennials. A clear example: College students who remained on their spring break and ignored social distancing recommendations, even after coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. 

While the WHO confirms that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes, heart disease) do appear to be more vulnerable to the virus, the organization has also established that people of all ages can be infected by COVID-19.

In fact, says Dr. Favini, while “people of any age or group can be asymptomatic carriers,” it’s younger people who are more likely to carry the virus to other people. 

“We have seen from Korea’s test results that around a quarter of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are in their 20s,” he says. “Though younger people may be asymptomatic and/or have mild symptoms, it is extremely important for people of all ages to practice social distancing.”

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The Coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.