Widespread international media coverage of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019. However, media reports have oversensationalized the situation, leading to global panic. Understanding the nature of the disease provides insight into effective preventive measures to curb the spread of infection and discredit rumors related to the transmission of the disease. These rumors are often filled with inaccurate information that misleads the public and causes alarm.
COVID-19 activity has increased rapidly over a short period, though sustained, widespread community transmission of the disease has not occurred outside China. As surveillance methods improve, so does the number of reported cases. However, sensationalized news spreads faster than the virus itself.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by infection with a newly discovered virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), previously known as 2019-nCoV. This virus is part of the Coronaviridae family, which includes the common cold, SARS-CoV, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). These viruses are classified as zoonotic, as they are transmitted between humans and animals and then transmitted between people. To date, the animal source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still unknown, though investigations are ongoing.
The incubation period is approximately 2-10 days after exposure, the average being 3-7 days until symptoms appear. Infected people may be contagious before symptoms are displayed. These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, and difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure – especially among older adults, infants, and those with underlying medical conditions.
COVID-19 is not airborne like other respiratory diseases and is transferred through small droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. An airborne disease is spread when the microorganism travels on microscopic dust particles in the air and can stay there for long periods. Therefore, to avoid infection from someone with COVID-19, it is recommended to maintain a safe distance of approximately one meter (3.3 feet) a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
Take a look at the following myths our experts have debunked about the COVID-19 disease.
COVID-19 mainly affects older people.
Anyone can become infected with COVID-19; however, older people, infants, individuals with weak immune systems or those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease) are most at risk of becoming severely ill once infected.
There are no effective preventive measures.
Frequent hand-washing with soap and water or alcohol-based gels in addition to drying your hands with a paper towel or air dryer is an effective method to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ultraviolet lamps should not be used as a disinfectant to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as it causes skin irritation.
It’s easy to become infected with COVID-19 on an airplane.
If traveling by aircraft, know that transmission of respiratory diseases on aircraft is uncommon, as recirculated air moves through several HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, and cabin air circulation is limited to specific zones or areas of the aircraft. However, some evidence suggests that a symptom-free passenger in an aircraft sitting within two rows of a contagious passenger for a flight time of more than eight hours may become infected with a respiratory disease.
It’s unsafe to receive packages from China.
Some have voiced concerns that it may be unsafe to receive packages from China; however, this is untrue. It is safe to receive packages from China, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not survive for long when in contact with objects such as letters and parcels. Additionally, pet owners have had concerns about the COVID-19 spreading to their pets. There is no evidence that suggests pets can spread the COVID-19 or can be infected with the virus. Always remain vigilant and exercise basic health precautions to prevent the spread of E. coli and salmonella, which are known diseases that spread between pets and humans.
Vaccines used to protect against pneumonia will protect you from COVID-19.
There has been some debate about whether vaccines used to protect against pneumonia can protect against COVID-19. Vaccines such as pneumococcal and Hemophilus influenza type B (Hib)will not offer the same protection against pneumonia caused by COVID-19. Furthermore, antibiotics are also ineffective in the treatment of COVID-19, since the disease is a viral infection, and antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. To date, there is no specific medicine on the market targeted to treat COVID-19, but the symptoms (fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure) will be treated with the appropriate medication.
Surgical masks will protect you from catching the virus.
Wearing a surgical mask is only recommended for individuals that are sick with COVID-19 and those attending to a sick person, not healthy individuals. The mask should be worn in combination with frequently washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based gels. The mask limits the spread of COVID-19 through coughing and sneezing, as well as mouth- or nose-to-hand contact. On average, individuals touch their faces 23 times per hour, increasing the spread of respiratory illness. Sick individuals should know how to wear a surgical mask in the correct manner, dispose it in the correct way, and not re-use single-use masks. The WHO has a simple how-to video for mask use.
Thermal surveillance is ineffective in detecting vulnerable individuals to COVID-19.
Thermal scanners are currently being implemented by several airports and border crossings to detect vulnerable individuals and are used during thermal surveillance to detect individuals that have developed a high fever (above the normal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius). However, these scanners are unable to detect if an individual is infected with COVID-19 but has not developed any symptoms yet, especially because the incubation phase is 2-10 days following exposure. However, since it is easy to catch a respiratory disease while transiting through an airport due to the large amount of people, transiting as quickly as possible through an airport is recommended.
Stay Informed with Reliable Sources
To keep updated with the current COVID-19 outbreak with reliable and accurate resources, only follow information provided by the WHO, CDC, and relevant country health departments. Stay up-to-date with our COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 Information Hub.
Our advice to travelers is to emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. As the Coronaviridae family is zoonotic, it is essential to avoid close contact with animals (dead or alive), especially at wet markets (i.e. an outdoor marketplace where fresh vegetables, live animals such as poultry, fish, pigs, and wild animals are sold). Per the WHO, "there is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19." Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette, such as covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands.
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