Coronavirus myths and misinformation, debunked

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As the territory of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 continues to expand, so are the bogus claims, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus.

There is so much incorrect information floating around that even UNICEF has declared the size of the virus as 500 microns which are about half a millimeter. Not even this, even WHO is calling this outbreak as an “infodemic.”

This inaccurate information is spreading like a wild jungle fire. While social media platforms have already taken steps to censor the content and promote only credible information and remove rest all, they still have a long way to go. Here are some salient myths about COVID-19.

Myth No. 1: Masks protect against COVID-19

There have been several instances across the globe of the shortage of masks. These shortages are presumably driven by consumer belief in their effectiveness than reality. Even the President of the United States, Donald Trump on made a remark to assure Americans, “We have 43 million masks, which is far more than anyone would have assumed we could have had so quickly, and a lot more are coming.

Despite all this, evidence suggests that commonly used masks, specifically surgical masks – the ones which are rectangular pieces of fabric connected through elastic bands – are ineffective in preventing us from respiratory viruses. Although a particular mask, the N95 is found to be useful in protecting health care professionals who are treating sick patients. However, it is of no use to healthy individuals. Masks essentially are only recommended for those who are sick to limit the transmission to others.

Myth No. 2: We will have a vaccine in the next few months.

Vaccines are extremely effective in controlling the large pathogenic outbreaks. This could be one of the reasons that the whole world is emphasizing and expecting the vaccine to be out soon to control the pandemic. At a public event, a few days back, President Trump seemed quite convinced that the world is going to get its first vaccine in “three to four months, in a couple of cases.”

As a science student, I wish this were true. Although there have been significant advances in finding a vaccine for Coronavirus (COVID-19) and several organizations have announced a huge grant too, yet the vaccine is unlikely to be available for widespread use anytime soon.

Usually, it has been observed that the drugs which seem promising in the laboratory are often not that effective in human trails. Also, before coming to markets, the drug needs to be tested in a larger human population sample. This process usually takes months, if not years. Even if we manage to speed up the process, massive production of vaccines require a whole lot of production unit to be built, which takes time. Keeping these factors in mind, the earliest we must expect a Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is 12-18 months.

Myth No. 3: We are helpless in the face of this outbreak.

As we built the laboratory capacity to test for Coronavirus (COVID-19), we are going to see an exponential rise in the number of cases being reported. This increase is expected to continue for several weeks, if not months. During such a health emergency, we often feel paralyzed. “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus,” declared an Atlantic headline, capturing the general sense of certainty. But this is certainly not the case.

With a collective effort and an effective action plan in place, we can do a lot. For instance, distancing self from public gatherings can be effective in reducing the outreach and impact on the pathogen. These measures include canceling large events, closure of schools and colleges and encouraging work from home.

Such a measure needs to be proactive than reactive. This virus has an incubation period of 14 days, after which symptoms start to appear and patients visit a doctor. This means that if a case is confirmed today, the transmission must have been several days ago. This is why quarantine of all suspected cases is essential before it becomes a carrier for several other infections.

In a nutshell, we are not helpless in the face of misinformation. We must seek truth from credible sources and then spread the information.

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