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Coronavirus myths: What's true and what's not

Tests are run in the Northwell Health Lab

Information on the coronavirus has been hit or “myth.”

No, you can’t take a hot bath to kill the virus. No, a vaccine almost certainly isn’t coming anytime soon. No, contrary to some early news reports, Americans aren’t so gullible to believe the virus is connected to Corona beer.

But yes, you can contract the virus in public places like mass transit, although it’s unlikely. (Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow, and wash your hands often and vigorously!)

Here's a few examples:

MYTH: Tito’s Handmade Vodka is an adequate ingredient for homemade hand sanitizer.    

Tito probably isn’t the guy the health commissioner thinks should be your new best friend.

“This might be an opportunity to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer your new best friend if you don't have easy ongoing access to a water supply,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the New York City health commissioner, said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a hand sanitizer, such as Purell, with at least 60% alcohol, to help kill any coronavirus living on your hands.

Despite a hand sanitizer shortage caused by a run on the product, and the unclear-if-trolling suggestion of a twitter user named @snottypotty (“I made some hand sanitizer out your vodka. The hand sanitizer doesn't taste bad either. Cheers to Tito's vodka. Keeping me germ-free and feeling good at the same.”), you shouldn’t listen to @snottypotty.

Tito’s reply: “Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito's Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC.”

MYTH: Household pets such as dogs and cats can transmit the coronavirus.

According to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the New York City health department’s deputy commissioner for disease control: “They're fine. They are safe … So far nothing convincing that would make us concerned about our furry friends, so I think our cats and dogs are fine.”

China, where the epidemic is believed to have begun at a wildlife market in Wuhan, has enacted across the country a ban on eating and farming wild animals, according to CNN, which reported that bat, snake and pangolin are being eyed as the possible source of transmission to humans.

Illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic, and include bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, according to the CDC. More than 6 out of 10 infectious diseases known to science can be spread to humans from animals, and 3 of 4 new or emerging infectious diseases come from animals.

Still, the World Health Organization recommends: “it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”

MYTH: The coronavirus can be killed by cold weather, snow or a hand dryer, prevented by a hot bath, or should be disinfected on the body using an ultraviolet lamp or by spraying chlorine on your body.

According to the WHO, scientists have no reason to believe that cold or even freezing temperatures can kill the virus. Taking a scalding-hot bath in an ill-advised attempt to prevent the body from being infected — ostensibly to heat up your body into a human autoclave — can actually inflict dangerous burns.

The same principle applies to hand dryers, which are ineffective in killing the virus. The best way to kill the virus is by adequate hand-washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

But the disinfectants can’t kill a virus that’s entered your body.

“Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth).”

And UV radiation? That can cause skin irritation, according to the WHO.

MYTH: Nearly 40% of Americans who drink beer won’t drink Corona beer because of virus-fear jitters that the good-with-a-lime cerveza is somehow connected.

A public-relations agency named 5W blasted out a news release last month touting a “survey” that “38% of beer-drinking Americans would not buy Corona under any circumstances now.”

That news release, which does not explain the methodology, margin of sampling error, or the questions and order asked, suggests a causal connection that isn’t borne out by the “findings.” The 737 people who answered 5W’s questions — whatever they were — could be saying they wouldn’t buy Corona beer because they don’t like the taste or prefer a darker beer like Guinness or are just teetotalers.

“There is no question that Corona beer is suffering because of the coronavirus. Could one imagine walking into a bar and saying ‘Hey, can I have a Corona?’ or ‘Pass me A Corona,’” the agency’s founder is quoted as saying.

Actually, there is a question.

According to the news release, among those who are Corona beer drinkers, only 4% said they wouldn’t consume it anymore. That could be within the margin of error.

MYTH: You can get coronavirus only if you have prolonged contact with an infected person.

Early in the week, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said of how a person can get the virus: “I believe it means you're in the same apartment with someone. You're like prolonged contact, you're breathing the same air for like a meaningful amount of time or you're working really closely with someone at work over hours, days, not, you know, I was in a car with someone for a half an hour or an hour. I was on a subway. I walked through the lobby. No, you actually have to be in regular contact in a meaningful way.”

Barbot, the health commissioner, says the infection rate is like that of "a really bad flu season."

Daskalakis, her deputy, says the virus is contracted from someone who is coughing, sneezing, etc.    

“Biologically and epidemiologically, the coronavirus acts a lot like the influenza virus,” he said.

He added: “So, it usually is direct contact with someone coughing or sneezing … there is the possibility of touching something and potentially getting the flu, but it's less common than the droplets.”

The chances are low, Bartbot said, but they’re still there in a public place.

MYTH: A vaccine for the coronavirus is just around the corner.

At a rally coinciding with the Super Tuesday elections, President Donald Trump told the crowd that he had met with pharmaceutical executives and, “they're going to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon.”

A publicly available vaccine against the coronavirus could take between 12 and 18 months to develop, according to the WHO.

“It will take at least a year and a half to have a vaccine we can use,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci told the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

And that would be a relatively speedy timeline.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services of Victoria, Australia, vaccine development usually takes between 10 and 15 years, during which the prospective vaccine undergoes research, preclinical testing, clinical testing, and approval by regulators, plus manufacture.

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