Twitter (and President Trump) are spreading some dangerous rumors about COVID-19. Here, we set them straight.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik and Kylie Gilbert
Updated Jun 25, 2020 @ 10:00 am
Credit: Getty Images

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the deadly virus has infiltrated every corner of our lives. As of June 24, there have been more than 9 million cases of COVID-19 and 479,496 deaths recorded worldwide — including 121,846 deaths in the United States.

But with new and often conflicting information being released on a daily basis, it can be hard to decipher fact from a misguided tweet (or comment from President Trump) gone, well, viral. Especially now, as the country begins to reopen (and cases surge) it's important to have the facts, so you can resume some aspects of your pre-COVID life safely.

Ahead, health experts weed through some of the biggest (and most dangerous) myths floating around about COVID-19.

Myth #1: Coronavirus always presents with a fever.

While cough, fever, and shortness of breath were the main symptoms initially associated with COVID-19 and the most common, they aren't the only ones. (For example, rashes can also be a symptom of coronavirus.) And, yes, it is possible to be infected and have no fever, or a very low-grade one, especially in the first few days. It is also possible to have COVID-19 with minimal or even no symptoms at all, according to experts.

In the past month alone, the CDC has added five more symptoms to its official list, which currently includes the following 11 symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Myth #2: Asymptompomatic carriers can't spread the virus.

For months, we've been talking about asymptomatic transmission (aka the ability to spread COVID-19 without presenting any symptoms) — and it was a big driver behind the enactment of strict social distancing guidelines. Then, a few weeks ago, the WHO said people who didn’t show symptoms were unlikely to spread the virus — cue mass confusion. However, after receiving backlash from many public health experts and infectious disease specialists, the WHO quickly backtracked, clarifying that the actual rates of asymptomatic transmission aren’t yet known.

Bottom line: While it's intrinsically difficult to monitor asymptomatic transmission (since patients don't show signs of being sick), silent transmission is still believed to be a major driver of the spread of COVID-19.

Myth #3: Ingesting disinfectants or bleach can kill coronavirus.

Despite President Donald Trump stating in a coronavirus briefing that disinfectants can "knock out" coronavirus "by injection inside," the medical community begs to differ. Consuming or injecting disinfectant or bleach is extremely dangerous — it can lead to poisoning and death.

"This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it's dangerous," pulmonologist Vin Gupta, M.D. told NBC News.

Keep using your disinfectants to kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces, but don't ingest or inject them under any circumstances, okay?

Myth #4: Wearing a cloth face mask will make you sick.

There’s been some speculation on social media that wearing a mask can cause you to rebreathe the carbon dioxide you exhale and make you sick. However, experts confirm that this is very unlikely to happen from wearing a fabric mask — especially if you’re only wearing it for short periods of time. (Think about it: Surgeons wear even more substantial face coverings all day without endangering their health.)

Wearing a cloth mask when you need to go in public (particularly in crowded areas) is still crucial. "Masks help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets — the primary way COVID-19 spreads," explains Nate Favini, M.D., the medical lead of Forward, a preventive primary care practice.

Myth #5: Ibuprofen can make you more vulnerable to coronavirus.

A study published in a highly-respected medical journal, The Lancet, in early March first caused this suggestion to spread widely, says Erika Schwartz. M.D., founder of Evolved Science. “The authors suggested that using NSAIDs (aka nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ibuprofen being one of them) may increase vulnerability to coronavirus,” Dr. Schwartz says. “There has been no substantiation or follow up to the claim.”

FWIW, the World Health Organization (WHO) retracted its original statement that people should avoid ibuprofen. The organization wrote on Twitter: “Based on currently available information, the WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen."

FYI, Dr. Schwartz still suggests avoiding it — 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.”

Myth #6: Your blood type can make you more susceptible.

Preliminary research out of China showed that about 45% 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, and having type A blood should not make you more worried about contracting the coronavirus.

Myth #7: Rinsing your nose with saline can 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.”

Reminder: “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.

Myth #8: Vinegar can 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% alcohol, or other household disinfectants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Myth #9: Home remedies and supplements can cure or prevent coronavirus.

Chances are you've seen a variety of supplements being touted as "cures" for coronavirus. But whether it's vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, essential oils, or garlic, none of these remedies are proven to cure or prevent the virus.

As for the supplement colloidal silver, which has been marketed a COVID-19 treatment, just stay away. Per every health organization out there, it's not effective for treating any disease – and can even cause serious side effects. For a full list of specific companies making claims that their product can prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure the coronavirus, check out this list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Myth #10: The virus will die off this summer when temperatures rise.

You may have heard that viruses spread more easily in the colder months, or that hot weather thwarts coronavirus cases — and there is some truth to that. Researchers do think that temperature plays a role in the virus spreading less aggressively. However, this does not mean that the spread of coronavirus will stop entirely when conditions become milder. Case in point: Coronavirus cases are surging in Florida and California.

Myth #11: Only older adults are at risk.

This one is, perhaps, the biggest myth among millennials – and could be deadly. 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, including children.

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.

“Though younger people may be asymptomatic and/or have mild symptoms, it is extremely important for people of all ages to practice social distancing,” he says.

Myth #12: You should always wear disposable gloves in public.

At one point, the CDC recommended gloves as an added protective layer for public outings, but it has since backtracked and currently only suggests wearing gloves when you are cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.

In fact, wearing gloves can actually do more harm than good by providing a false sense of protection, explains John Whyte, M.D., a board-certified internist and Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. “You might actually touch contaminated surfaces with the gloves and then touch your eyes and face, and probably your phone. Touching your face and your phone with dirty gloves defeats the whole purpose,” he says.

While gloves can't hurt if you're using them properly, in most situations they are not necessary. Instead, continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask when you go out in public, and wash your hands properly afterward.

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.