Dr Shravan Verma Debunks Myths on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)

By the team at Speedoc,
February 11, 2020

I was still in school when the SARS outbreak hit Singapore back in 2003. It was unprecedented at the time, claiming 33 lives and infecting thousands more. That’s why when I heard about a new, rampant virus spreading in the city of Wuhan, I was apprehensive. There was very little information coming out of China, but from what we knew, it was very infectious.

But, what makes the COVID-19(Coronavirus Disease 2019) outbreak different from the SARS epidemic back then is that social media is now used as a trusted news source by many. This means that when people found out about the COVID-19 on places like Facebook or Whatsapp, some of that news was accompanied by false or unverified information.

The result? Boxes after boxes of masks went out of stock at stores like Watsons and Guardian, an online petition calling for Singapore to ban travellers from China gathered 100,000 signatures in just a few days, and landlords were turning away their own tenants returning from China out of fear of getting infected.

As a doctor, I feel that one of the most important things we need to combat against the COVID-19 is facts. That is why I’ll be addressing some of the more common myths below in the hopes that you’ll come out with the best tools you need to defend yourself against infection.

Myth #1: I can take antibiotics to prevent or even treat the COVID-19

We’ve all probably been prescribed antibiotics at some point in our lives. They are particularly useful in combating bacterial infections, but the truth is, they are ineffective against viruses like the common cold or influenza. This also means that they are ineffective against the COVID-19. So, if you happen to have some antibiotics in your medicine cabinet, taking them won’t do anything to prevent or treat the virus. Also, in general, you should only take antibiotics if they have been prescribed for you by a doctor.

At the moment, there is no antiviral drug available to combat the COVID-19. But, instead of worrying, here’s an important statistic: over 3,000 patients worldwide have recovered successfully, including 6 local cases. As long as you are healthy and have no underlying medical conditions, the recovery advice for the COVID-19 is actually similar to the flu — plenty of rest and lots of fluids.

Myth #2: I will not get the virus as long as I wear a mask

Plenty of people in Singapore have been hoarding masks, to the extent that the government has opted to give 4 free masks to each household with instructions to only use them when unwell. This has caused a lot of confusion, because shouldn’t you be wearing masks to protect against the virus in the first place?

I understand that wearing a mask may make you feel safe against the virus, but it is true that it is more helpful when you are already sick. Surgical masks like the ones given out by the government are actually used to prevent the wearer from spreading their own germs to other people when they cough or sneeze. They are not very effective in preventing you from inhaling in small, airborne particles.

Also, masks are not helpful when it comes to contact transmission. Even if some masks might filter out airborne particles, it will not help if someone sneezes onto a doorknob and you touch it moments later. If you’re healthy, the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and if needed, use hand sanitizer.

Myth #3: I can catch the virus through my domestic pets

You might have heard that the COVID-19 originated from a wet market that was well-known for illegally trafficking wildlife, possibly from bats. If we can catch the disease from bats, can we catch it from other animals?

I’ve heard people wondering if their pets could potentially catch the COVID-19. I’ve also seen some photos of pets from hamsters to dogs wearing masks. While cute, there is no cause for concern. While coronaviruses are zoonotic viruses, which does mean that they can be transmitted between animals and people, there is no evidence to support that the virus can be spread to our domestic pets. But, if you’re still worried, washing your hands with soap and water after handling your pet is generally a good practice to prevent the spread of other types of diseases.

Myth #4: I can get the virus from parcels sent from China

Some people have stopped buying goods from China, while others have ‘quarantined’ parcels that have arrived from there. Why? They are afraid that if an infected person had handled their items, they run the risk of also catching the virus.

While this sounds like a valid concern, there is actually no risk of anyone contracting the virus through a package or a letter from China. This is because the virus is unable to survive for very long outside of the human body, with many experts saying that at most, it can last up to a few hours on a surface.

Myth #5: Foods like garlic will help prevent me from getting the virus

Garlic has many health benefits and more people should be eating it. After all, it has been said to be helpful in lowering your cholesterol and even possibly preventing Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it will not prevent you from getting the COVID-19.

In fact, no food out there is guaranteed to prevent you from contracting the virus. I’ve heard of other myths that sesame oil or even red marine algae are effective deterrents against the virus, but these are not backed up by any medical studies. Instead, I recommend maintaining a healthy diet that is full of immune-boosting foods like fruits and vegetables. This will ensure that your immune system is strong enough to fight off any infections that might come, whether it’s the flu or the COVID-19.

How to actually stay safe and healthy from the virus

I know that the lack of information about the virus can be very scary, but the most important thing to realise is that with good hygiene practices, it can be contained and even prevented. Instead of relying on myths you’ve read about online, remember these tips:

  1. Wash your hands regularly with water and soap

  2. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing

  3. Wear a mask if you are feeling unwell

  4. See a doctor if you are unwell

If you are feeling unwell and need to visit a doctor but are worried about the potential spread of germs at a clinic, you can always engage our house call doctor services. But, if you have reason to believe that you might have the COVID-19, such as the previous contact with an infected patient, skip the doctor and go straight to the hospital for proper tests.

This post was written by Dr. Shravan Verma, MD, Founder & CEO of Speedoc.