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Don’t believe it: 10 coronavirus ‘facts’ that are not true

You can’t actually gargle or blow-dry your way out of infection. What else is false?

A man pushes his luggage past workers in protective suits as they wait to take the temperature of travelers at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Friday, March 6, 2020. An industry group says the spreading coronavirus could cost airlines as much as $113 billion in lost revenue
Mark Schiefelbein, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Crazy claims seem to spring up with any public health crisis. But the partial shutdowns across the globe related to the novel coronavirus pandemic and fears of subsequent COVID-19 have apparently energized fake-news fibbers and given them an opportunity to hone their craft.

Social media has been flooded with lies, myths and misinformation in recent weeks. Some are just annoying, but a few of them could even be dangerous.

This list is the tip of the iceberg, so vet the “facts” you find with reputable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Coronavirus.utah.gov. Some of the videos and posts circulating contain WHO or CDC logos. Anyone can put those on a post, so if the information seems odd or sketchy, go to their official websites to confirm the information. Chances are better-than-astounding you won’t find it there.

You can also fact-check claims with reputable media, genuine public health sites or services like Snopes and the Poynter Institute’s Politifact.

I’m not sharing the videos or links that would contribute to the spread of bad information. And if you see these or other sketchy posts, don’t pass them on. You’ll be lying to your friends and maybe even causing harm.

Here’s a sampling of the myths surrounding this novel coronavirus and COVID-19:

No, inhaling the hot air from a blow dryer will not prevent infection. A video posted under the name Dr. Dän Lee Dimke said turning a blow dryer’s hot air on your face or sitting in a sauna and inhaling would kill the coronavirus. Snopes did a thorough debunk, including citing experts on how dangerous that kind of information can be. It prevents people from doing what they should — avoiding others, washing hands and disinfecting surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes, etc. — and from getting medical help if they really need it.

Snopes noted viruses “make you sick on a cellular level via mechanisms not easily stopped by something as simple as hot air.”

As for Dimke, Snopes says the biography on his website claims a doctoral degree in education from Southwest University and a master’s degree in business administration. No medical expertise required.

No, the World Health Organization isn’t saying not to take ibuprofen with COVID-19. That’s a rumor that NPR said started with French health minister Olivier Véran, who reported some increased illness with people who had taken the drug and saw a worsening of symptoms. NPR said the European Medicines Agency countered by saying it is monitoring interactions, but there is “currently no scientific evidence establishing a link between ibuprofen and worsening of COVID‑19.” WHO tweeted that it is not, contrary to claims, telling people not to use ibuprofen.

No, gargling with salt in warm water won’t kill this coronavirus and keep you safe. That one’s been all over social media — and was popular during the spread of SARS and MERS and Zika virus, too. A warm salt water gargle can reduce pain from a sore throat, but there’s no expected benefit in terms of curing COVID-19, a respiratory infection. Even with a sore throat, don’t swallow salt water. Drinking salt water can cause diarrhea and ingesting too much salt carries health risks like increased blood pressure.

No, holding your breath for 10 seconds won’t diagnose COVID-19. Someone who’s very ill with the viral disease might not be able to hold his or her breath that long, but being able to hold one’s breath says nothing about whether a person’s been infected. Still, this statement is all over the internet: “If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, it proves there is no fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection.” That’s a bogus diagnosis.

No, summer’s arrival will not automatically kill this novel coronavirus. According to WHO, “From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.”

No, dousing yourself with chlorine, alcohol or other substances won’t kill the virus after infection. And cocaine certainly won’t work. As Global News reported, “If you snort cocaine, you’re going to get super high; if you drink bleach, you’re going to get super sick — and if you do either of those things and come in contact with the novel coronavirus, you’re still likely to get COVID-19.”

The story says the rumor seems to have come from a website that lets users create bogus breaking news images, a fact Global News gleaned from Poynter Institute’s fact-checking site, Politifact.

No, the new coronavirus isn’t carried by mosquitoes, according to the American Mosquito Control Association. And WHO backs them on this. The respiratory virus is spread mainly through droplets from the coughs and sneezes, saliva or nasal discharge of someone who is infected. If you’re coughing or sneezing, don’t spread it. And everyone needs to wash their hands often and stay 6 feet or more away from others.

No, ultraviolet disinfection lamps should not be used to disinfect your skin. The lamps may irritate the skin, WHO says. UV is being used by some facilities to disinfect hard surfaces and air.

No, having a thermal scan somewhere like the airport security line won’t detect everyone who’s infected. The scan can spot someone who’s feverish, but people are feverish for many reasons. People can also temporarily suppress fever with medications designed to bring a fever down. And it may take days for someone who’s infected to develop a fever, so as a screening tool, it would miss a lot of cases. The European Union Health Programme says thermal screening yields false positive and false negatives, as well as genuine results.

No, cow urine doesn’t prevent infection and you shouldn’t drink it. According to Yahoo News, “An activist with India’s ruling party has been arrested after a volunteer fell ill from drinking cow urine at a party to combat the novel coronavirus, police said Wednesday, as interest grows in home remedies amid the pandemic.” The article noted large numbers in the Hindu-majority nation of 1.3 billion view cows as sacred and some think the urine can cure “all manner of ailments, from arthritis and asthma to cancer and diabetes.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said UV lamps will not kill this coronavirus. It must not be used to kill coronavirus on people, who could be harmed.