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3 myths about the coronavirus that are 'ignorant at best'

In uncertain times it people cling to any sort of advice. The experts want people to steer away from medical advice given by vague sources.
/ Source: TODAY

As the number of people with COVID-19 in the U.S. has been rapidly increasing, misinformation about the virus has been spreading almost as quickly. For many, understanding what’s fact and what’s fiction is tough. On social media, a post on coronavirus advice — which includes holding one’s breath for 10 seconds and sipping water every 15 minutes — has dispersed rapidly. But experts warn that it contains more myth than fact.

“There are enough grains of truth to allow a veneer of legitimacy,” Dr. David Cennimo, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics in the division of infectious disease at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told TODAY, via email. “These claims are mostly ignorant at best.”

The advice starts off with something that seems somewhat true: Numerous people who develop coronavirus don’t know they’re sick. As many as 40% of people with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, which means few will know that they’re sick immediately, Cennimo said. That’s a problem because it leads to the virus spreading unchecked.

“There is a period between infection and symptoms for anyone, even those that will be severely ill,” Cennimo said. “We seem to be recognizing an increasing risk of infection being transmitted during this time frame.”

The advice continues, and gets further and further from the truth. Here are the three biggest misconceptions people are falling for.

MYTH: You can hold your breath to test for infection.

The widely-circulated advice encourages people to “take a deep breath and hold it for more than 10 seconds. If you do this successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, there is no fibrosis in the lungs; it basically indicates no infection.”

Doctors are bewildered by this.

“It is a bunch of nonsense thinking you can take a deep breath and figure out if you have coronavirus,” Dr. Dan McGee, a pediatric hospitalist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY.

While people with COVID-19 experience shortness of breath, there’s no way a person could determine if they had it simply by inhaling deeply and holding it. The anonymous author of the post also uses the term “fibrosis,” which "is a long-term pathological response to lung injury akin to a scar," Cennimo said. While patients with coronavirus have inflamed lungs, scaring hasn't be observed. It seems the author of the post sprinkled in medical terms to sound legitimate.

“People who are not medically trained shouldn’t be giving advice on the internet,” McGee said. “It just adds to the confusion.”

MYTH: Drink water to "push the virus to your stomach."

The message encourages people to take sips of water every 15 minutes to push the virus through the system into the stomach where the acid will kill the virus.

The text or email notes: “Serious excellent advice by Japanese doctors treating COVID-19 cases: Everyone should ensure your mouth & throat are moist, never dry. Take a few sips of water every 15 minutes at least. Why? Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids will wash them down through your throat and into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will kill all the virus."

When people breathe, droplets in the air get into their mouths and noses. But that doesn’t mean nonstop water consumption will protect them from developing COVID-19.

“There is no medical evidence guiding this although staying hydrated is overall a good idea,” Cennimo said.

MYTH: Drinking warm water combats coronavirus.

The advice also instructs people to drink warm water to ward off coronavirus and other viruses. Again, the experts agree that there’s no evidence that water temperature impacts how people's immune systems respond to viruses.

“Any water you drink is going to become 98.6 degrees eventually when it hits your stomach,” McGee said. “Why that would make a difference is beyond me. I think they’re confusing that you should wash your hands with warm water to help disperse the soap better.”

McGee says that people should get their advice from trusted medical sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. While it might be tempting to believe social reports from a "medical source" or a friend of a friend, the experts agree that's not the place to find proper guidance.

“If it sounds like whacky advice it probably is,” McGee said. “Try to get your information from a primary source. Go to the CDC website: They have all the information you will ever need to know about the coronavirus.”