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The myths versus facts on COVID-19

February 21, 2020 by Kimberly Drake

There’s a growing concern spreading across the globe about the coronavirus (COVID-19), with much of it fueled by breaking news and updates flooding our TV and social media platforms. No matter which way you turn, there’s something new happening, which has the general public on the verge of a full-fledged panic. 

Although any outbreak of disease is highly worrisome, this virus is even more so, as health experts continue scrambling to find the answers surrounding how this outbreak happened and what to do about it. This uncertainty breeds fear, and sometimes misinformation, which can be more detrimental than the virus itself. Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report highlighting these fears in the hopes of bringing clarity to a very confusing situation.

Myth or fact? You shouldn’t receive packages from China

Myth. According to the WHO, coronaviruses do not survive long on objects like packages. How they are transmitted is still somewhat of a mystery, but scientists say they most likely pass between people via the respiratory route, much like the influenza virus. Once the virus is acquired, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19’s “incubation period is probably between 5 and 6 days.”

Myth or fact? Pets can’t transmit the coronavirus

Fact. The WHO says, “currently, there is no evidence that this coronavirus can infect companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats.” The origin of the new virus is thought to have come from a wild animal market, but further investigation has revealed that some people infected at the time of the initial outbreak had not been to that market. This family of viruses is mostly found in bats, and although they do not typically transmit directly to humans, transmission can occur through another “middleman” animal, which can be wild or domestic. 

Myth or fact? If I am vaccinated against pneumonia, it will offer me some protection against coronavirus

Myth. The WHO states, “vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccines, do not protect against COVID-19.” They go on to say that because this bug is so different, an entirely new vaccine will need to be developed to fight it. Currently, clinical trials are underway to find a vaccine against the MERS coronavirus, which, if successful, could lay the groundwork for a COVID-19 treatment and vaccine.

Myth or fact? If I am older, I am more at risk

Fact. Although everyone can acquire the coronavirus, its severity can depend on several factors, age being one of them. 

According to a WHO press briefing on Feb. 6, people most at risk of experiencing severe illness due to a COVID-19 infection are older adults, especially those over the age of 80, and individuals who have other health conditions that compromise their immune system. So far, initial reports are showing very few children have been infected with this novel virus, and men may have a slightly higher risk of contracting the disease than women. Depending on a person’s immune system, COVID-19 can cause either mild, flu-like symptoms, or more severe disease, with most patients experiencing mild symptoms and about 20% of those affected progressing to severe illness, which includes pneumonia and respiratory failure.

Myth or fact? There are no treatments for the COVID-19

Fact. Current reports state there are no targeted, specialized treatments for infections resulting from the new coronavirus. When an individual is positive for COVID-19, the goal is to treat the symptoms as they arise. However, scientists are studying the use of HIV therapy medications to fight the virus, as early research indicates the combination of antiretroviral drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, can attack a specific molecule that HIV and coronaviruses both use to reproduce. 

Another treatment under investigation for use against coronavirus is an arthritis drug called baricitinib, but its success has yet to be proven. Treatment being as limited as it is, the goal is geared more towards prevention, which consists of regular hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness.

Myth or fact? This virus is the same as MERS and SARS

At this point, myth. Yes, MERS and SARS are coronaviruses that have caused global outbreaks, but this strain isn’t at that level yet. The SARS coronavirus had its reign from 2002 until 2003, and the MERS outbreak, which originated in Saudi Arabia, occurred in 2012. In SARS, fatality rates were estimated at approximately 0 to 50% depending on the age group affected, with an overall case fatality estimate of 14 to 15%. In MERS, roughly 35% of patients with this virus died. According to the WHO, Chinese health officials have reported a death rate of around 2 to 4% with COVID-19.

For comparison, during the 2009-10 outbreak of H1N1, also known as the swine flu, the CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to this influenza strain, and an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 deaths related to the swine flu worldwide. This data puts the threat status of this coronavirus into a milder category, but health experts are most concerned about its ability to mutate as time goes on. This worry may be warranted, as according to a February 3rd article in Business Insider, COVID-19 shares 80% of its genome with the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak.

Pandemics have been around since the dawn of time, but the one thing that makes them especially threatening today is our mobility. A novel virus can spread across thousands of miles of real estate in the time it takes an airliner to fly across the country. Too fast for medical experts, health organizations and scientists to catch up.  

Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected].

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