For the past couple of months, fear and anxiety have been building over the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as COVID-19.
People have raced to grocery stores to pick up anything that might cut their risk of contracting the virus. There are barely any face masks available, a limited supply of disinfecting wipes, and you’d be lucky to find a bottle of hand sanitizer in most places.
Meanwhile, certain individuals and companies have cashed in on our fears by sharing advice and selling products that can allegedly (key word: allegedly) keep us safe from COVID-19.
Most, if not all, of these claims are fake. We don’t have a preventive vaccine yet, nor do we have any scientifically proven way to destroy COVID-19 once it’s in our bodies. The best way to stay safe right now is by social distancing and good old-fashioned hand-washing.
Here are the main scams and myths we’re seeing that you should watch out for:
Questionable DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipes
Due to the global hand sanitizer shortage, the World Health Organization recently published a recipe for a DIY hand sanitizer. While that recipe is completely safe and legitimate, others have since shared their own sanitizer recipes.
According to Ben Neuman, the head of the biology department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, an effective hand sanitizer needs to be 70% pure ethanol, or 140 proof, which is a much higher ethanol concentration than any sort of alcohol you’d find at a liquor store. (Don’t use your vodka, people!).
Plus, if you do make your own hand sanitizer, it’s not totally guaranteed to work. “Even made properly, an ethanol solution is not 100% guaranteed to keep you safe,” said Neumon, who has researched coronaviruses for 24 years.
During the SARS epidemic, people could still contract the disease despite using ethanol disinfectants, he added.
There’s really no need to make your own sanitizer, said infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“I find it puzzling that people are trying to make their hand sanitizer when they have soap and water that works just fine,” Adalja said.
Herbal Remedies And Supplements Claiming To Fight COVID-19
Herbal remedies — including mixtures of honeysuckle, cinnamon twig, and peony root — have gained some traction thanks to false claims that they can treat flu-like symptoms or boost the immune system. Twitter is also all in on garlic right now, asserting that the herb has antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
“Garlic, my goodness,” Neuman said. “SARS-CoV-2 is not a vampire — garlic is tasty in spaghetti sauce, but it is not an antiviral.”
According to Neuman, any benefits provided by herbal remedies are due to the placebo effect, if anything. And the placebo effect, which is essentially when your brain tricks your body into thinking a treatment works, will not keep you from getting COVID-19.
Additionally, any “coronavirus-fighting” supplements you see marketed out there — like this chlorine dioxide solution, this high-dosage Vitamin C pack, or a bottle of colloidal silver — are a total scam. If we had a solution to cure COVID-19, you’d be aware.
“SARS-CoV-2 is not a vampire — garlic is tasty in spaghetti sauce, but it is not an antiviral.”
“The fact that anyone would be advertising that anything you put inside your body can fight coronavirus should tell you it is bunk,” Neuman said. There is no science proving these items work — if anything, evidence shows they don’t.
Drinking Water To ‘Kill’ The Virus
There’s a rumor going around that gulping down water can push the novel coronavirus into your stomach, where stomach acids will kill it. Neuman said this advice is “mostly bonkers.”
Once the virus enters your body — through your mouth, nose or eyes — it will quickly infect your cells and, over time, spread to your lungs. For most people, the infection starts and ends around the lungs. In others, the infection could spread to the intestines and cause diarrhea. But just because the virus that causes COVID-19 reaches your intestines does not mean you are in the clear. You are still fighting an infection, regardless.
“The intestines actually have more of the virus receptor than the lungs, and would offer a potential route of access to the bloodstream and the important organs, so you wouldn’t want to deliberately introduce the virus into the digestive tract,” Neuman explained.
Staying hydrated is a good idea in general, but water is not going to fight the illness itself.
Latex Gloves For Virus Protection
People who can’t get ahold of a face mask (which, remember, isn’t foolproof) are now reaching for latex gloves, but there’s no proof they provide any protection. The novel coronavirus cannot be absorbed through the skin, according to Neuman. It can easily hang out on the gloves and reach all the areas where you can contract the illness (face, eyes, nose).
Latex gloves are also not sturdy and rip and tear easily. “I don’t suspect people wear them that well, and I suspect they get tears in them and people don’t even realize they got tears in them,” Adalja said, adding that the gloves also provide a false sense of security.
Avoiding Packages From China
Scared about ordering goods from China? Don’t be. Though coronaviruses may seem tough, they’re actually quite delicate.
Neuman, who worked with SARS, said keeping a coronavirus intact is no easy task. “Once the virus is outside the body, the clock is ticking and the amount of intact virus drops pretty quickly,” Neuman said. That’s a big journey for the new coronavirus.
Plus, the latest research shows that the virus may survive only about two to three days on surfaces — it takes much longer for your Amazon package to ship from China.
Using CBD As Medicine
Jim Higdon, the co-founder of Cornbread Hemp, has seen a huge spike in online orders over the past week. Higdon suspects so many people are likely purchasing CBD products to ease their anxiety regarding the coronavirus, but he’s also concerned that people may believe it can fight the infection.
The problem, he said, is that some influencers are trying to market CBD as a way “to protect against COVID-19, and that’s just wrong and dangerous.”
Although many find that CBD eases their anxiety levels, there isn’t enough evidence yet to prove major health effects. Plus, the compound isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so do your research and ensure you’re buying from a reliable source.
Here’s What To Do Instead:
First, try not to panic.
“The word ‘pandemic’ has the power to conjure up frightful images from movies and the distant past, but I think in reality the situation today is more controllable than at the peak of the outbreak in China just over a month ago,” Neuman said.
Around the world, we are now seeing a massive response to COVID-19, which is a very promising development. Follow the updates and pay attention to your local health authorities.
Instead of wasting your time and money on scammy products or bad advice, listen to the experts — wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face, practice social distancing, and disinfect surfaces.
Finally, if you do get sick, please make a telehealth appointment and isolate yourself until you recover (unless you’re experiencing severe symptoms like a high fever and shortness of breath; then seek in-person care immediately).
Neuman said self-quarantine for sick people is the one way to stop any new virus. Just look at China, he said: The recent drop in the country’s COVID-19 cases “shows that the virus burns out quickly when people keep to themselves.”
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