Coronavirus: the truth against the myths

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Laura Bello Rodríguez, a recent graduate in BSc Biomedical Sciences from the University of Barcelona. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Some alarming news are being heard lately concerning a new virus outbreak from China: the ‘Coronavirus’. It is one of the main topics on the media and the internet, but not all information we receive is true. A lot of myths are being spread. These false ideas are only causing fear and anxiousness on people, so the truth must be known in order to calm this unnecessary nervousness. However, before that, let’s put things into context.

This is not the first time that humans face a health threat coming from a Coronavirus family member: in 2003, the SARS-CoV caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and in 2012 the MERS-CoV provoked the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Now, a new coronavirus epidemic has been reported coming from Wuhan, China. The so called 2019-nCoV. Its transmission can be done between animals and humans, and from person to person. Infected people can present mild symptoms such as cough or fever. Severe expressions of the disease are also possible, such as pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. Since we previously did not know about this virus, no treatment nor vaccines are available.

So, what about the myths? It is said that the coronavirus can come in packages from China. However, the virus does not survive long on objects, so there is no need to worry about getting infected by this mean. It is completely safe to receive anything from China. It is also said that pets at home may spread the virus, but there is no evidence that this happens. This does not mean you do not have to wash your hands after contact with pets. It should always be done to prevent other potential infections, such as Salmonella.

And about older people, does the coronavirus only infect them? Although it is true that the elders are more vulnerable to develop the severe expression of the disease, people of all ages can be affected.

Another myth that must be busted is the believe that vaccines against pneumonia can protect you against the 2019-nCoV. This novel coronavirus needs its own vaccine, and any other is not useful. What about antibiotics? Should you use them to treat the infection? The answer is no. The coronavirus is a virus and antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

Is it true there is nothing you can do to prevent yourself from getting the virus? No, you can do several basic preventive practices recommended by the World Health Organisation. Wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and cook meat thoroughly. You should also avoid close contact with those who present symptoms of respiratory illness.

Research on the novel coronavirus is currently being done and new scientific articles are published almost every day. Vaccines and treatment are being developed and further information will be available soon. In the meantime, we must be critical about what we read on the internet and beware of the potential myths we might find.

References:

  1. Hu D., Zhu C., Ai L., He T., Wang Y, Ye F., Yang L., Ding D., Zhu X., Lv R., Zhu J., Hassan B., Feng Y., Tan W. and Wang C. Genomic Characterization and Infectivity of a Novel SARS-like Coronavirus in Chinese Bats. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2018;7(1),154.
  2. Schoeman D., Fieldin BC. Coronavirus Envelope Protein: Current Knowledge. Virol J. 2019;16(1),69.
  3. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
  5. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

About the author

Laura Bello Rodríguez is a recent graduate in BSc Biomedical Sciences from the University of Barcelona. She is currently an Erasmus+ postgraduate intern at ‘Cosciences’, a science communication agency based in Montpellier (France) where she communicates science through radio features, written articles and streaming sessions. Next year, she will study a Master’s degree in science communication in the United Kingdom, to start working in this essential field and continue directing her career towards science journalism.

 

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