As more information about the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this article may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit online resources provided the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department. You can work to better protect yourself from COVID-19 by washing your hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, and sanitizing your home, among other actions.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, there’s plenty of new information to pay attention to each day. While the number of confirmed cases continues to rise in the U.S., what doctors and scientists know about how COVID-19 behaves becomes both clearer and murkier, and tips on staying busy, working from home, and caring for our mental health abound. But what’s also swirling are truths, half truths, and untruths about the coronavirus crisis. That’s why we went straight to the experts to find out what you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and safe. Here are the expert-verified facts about the coronavirus that you need to know.
FACT: You should be careful while having sex.
The virus isn’t considered a traditional sexually transmitted disease since it’s not spread via contact with genitals — but because it’s transmitted through respiratory droplets, kissing can spread it. “Be careful in the bedroom and consider modifying your sexual routine for now — and one thing’s for sure, now is not the time to find a new intimate partner,” says Raj Dasgupta, M.D., a pulmonologist and critical care physician working on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis at Keck Hospital of USC in California.
How else is it spread? Coughing and sneezing and through close person-to-person contact that might transfer those droplets — i.e. if a sick person coughs or sneezes into their hand and then shakes yours, or from hugging and kissing an infected individual. It’s now believed the virus can also live on certain hard surfaces, such as plastic or stainless steel, for up to 72 hours.
FACT: If you’re healthy, a disposable mask won’t keep you safe from the disease.
The disposable masks you find at the drugstore aren’t able to filter out germy droplets that might get you sick. If you are diagnosed with coronavirus then yes, a mask will help prevent your respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze from infecting someone else — but if you’re sick, you should be staying home and away from people. “I would urge people to please stop buying masks and leave them for the people who need them most, which are healthcare workers who are around coronavirus and other sick patients,” says Ashwin Vasan, M.D., Ph.D., an epidemiologist and president and CEO of Fountain House in New York City.
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FACT: You can’t catch coronavirus from your pet.
“Right now the CDC says there’s no evidence that pets, livestock, or wildlife can transmit the disease to humans, but we’re still unsure if humans can pass it on to their pets,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “I have two amazing dogs, and my advice if you’re sick is to avoid snuggling your animals and keep them at a safe distance without completely isolating them from you, because that’s not good for them either!”
FACT: The coronavirus pandemic won’t end once warmer weather arrives.
Not to be Debbie Downers, but here’s the reality: Rising temperatures won’t bring the coronavirus spread to a halt. “The idea that this is just going to blow over once spring and summer arrives is incorrect — warmer temps won’t kill off the virus,” says Dr. Vasan. “The spread may slow slightly simply because there tends to be less coughing and sneezing during the warm months, but it’s so easily transmissible that it will continue to circulate if we don’t get a handle on it now. That’s why social distancing is so important.”
FACT: Over-the-counter meds won’t make COVID-19 symptoms worse.
You may have heard that OTC pain meds like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can make coronavirus worse, but the World Health Organization has debunked that notion and other medical experts agree. “That rumor just adds to the panic — there’s no scientific evidence to back it up,” says Dr. Dasgupta.
In general, choose whichever option best treats your symptoms, says Dr. Vasan — if you have a fever, acetaminophen is generally best for that, but if you have inflammation or aches, ibuprofen works better.
FACT: Even if you don’t have symptoms, you can still be contagious.
“It’s possible that 70% to 80% of people may have mild to no symptoms, but I would still be very cautious because you may still be infectious,” says Peter Gulick, infectious disease expert at Michigan State University.
What common symptoms should you expect? That landscape changes by the day, but as of now a high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell or taste are biggies to look out for. Some people are also thought to exhibit gastrointestinal signs like diarrhea, body aches, and upper respiratory symptoms like congestion. Keep yourself healthy by washing your hands regularly and staying inside.
FACT: If you’re younger, you can still get coronavirus.
In the early days of the pandemic, older adults and those with underlying or immunosuppressive health conditions were the populations considered to be most at risk. That’s still true — those demographics will be hit hardest if they do get sick — but we now know that people of any age can get coronavirus, including children. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that nearly 40% of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the U.S. are under the age of 54.
FACT: A vaccine won’t be available anytime soon.
Scientists are hard at work developing a vaccine that can effectively fight the coronavirus, but it will be a long time before one is available to the general public. “We want a vaccine, but there are multiple phases to reach FDA approval, and it’s important a vaccine passes through all of them. Plus, this virus will continue to mutate so we really want to get this right,” says Dr. Dasgupta.
FACT: There are drug therapies being tested to fight coronavirus.
As of now, there is no drug approved by the FDA to specifically fight the coronavirus. However, there are several existing drugs typically used to treat other inflammatory conditions that the CDC states are being administered to some coronavirus patients on a trial basis. Those include hydroxychloroquine, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and chloroquine, used to treat malaria. New York State is also launching a clinical trial to see if the rheumatoid arthritis drug sarilumab can effectively treat COVID-19.
FACT: No home remedies will kill the COVID-19 virus.
If you’ve read that gargling with hot tea or vinegar will kill the virus, know that that’s not true. “These home remedies might ease your symptoms to help you feel better, but they do nothing to fight the virus itself,” says Dr. Dasgupta. Another coronavirus combat tip to avoid: Spraying yourself with household disinfectants. “This is dangerous and should never be done,” Dr. Dasgupta says. “You should never ingest these products or apply them to your skin.”
FACT: It’s not a “Chinese virus.”
This term has been thrown around a lot lately, but it’s absolutely incorrect — and just plain wrong — to do so. “Characterizing a virus based on a specific ethnicity or nation is racist,” says Dr. Vasan. “COVID-19 is part of an existing family of viruses called coronaviruses and has nothing to do with geography. In theory, the first case could have started anywhere.”
Dr. Dasgupta says he’s seen the impact this type of language can have firsthand. “Some of my residents and nurses are worried about the stereotypes and discriminations they might face while doing their jobs because of this xenophobia,” he says. “This is not the way we should talk about a virus or disease.”
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