The confirmation on Friday of the first positive coronavirus case in Kenya set off an unprecedented wave of false and misleading claims about how people can monitor, prevent, cure and ‘treat’ the virus.
Often given a false attribution to pass off as authoritative, such messages go viral on social networking platforms being forwarded by well-intentioned, scared or naïve people.
The deluge of misinformation about the pandemic is so huge that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is fighting an “infodemic” that poses a serious threat to public health.
Here are some of the widely-shared claims the Standard Fact Desk debunked:
A message purporting to be of a medical faculty member at Zanjan University falsely claimed that drinking warm water with lemon protected against the coronavirus.
“Please use as much as possible of natural vitamin C to strengthen your immune system. Don’t worry, C gets rid of it a lot, and it’s fine (sic),” it read in part.
Generally, eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C is good for staying healthy, but there is no scientific evidence that eating a particular food will help prevent this virus.
To protect ourselves from the virus, the WHO recommends that we frequently wash our hands, cover our mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing, and avoid close contact with those infected.
Second-hand clothing is a huge business in Kenya and is a favourite for thousands of bargain-hunters who are not shy of rummaging through piles of clothes shipped from the West.
But various online posts are now advising against them with claims that they could be carrying coronavirus from numerous worst-hit western nations. This is false.
According to studies on the virus, it may survive for a few hours or up to several days on surfaces. This is dependent on conditions such as the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment, the WHO says.
However, the virus cannot be spread by second-hand clothes, or any other goods, shipped from abroad – often taking weeks.
“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 (the official name of the disease) from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” WHO explains.
United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes that earlier coronaviruses had poor survivability on surfaces and “there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures”.
Warm weather doesn’t help
A common refrain fronted by sceptics of the severity of the scourge is that tropical weather, such as Kenya's, will kill the virus, effectively stopping its spread.
Even US President Donald Trump weighed in, saying that the April sunshine could chase away the virus.
This is not entirely true.
The WHO says coronavirus can be transmitted “in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather.” It cautions that the disease “will not go away” due to warmer weather and advises that the best way to protect yourself is good personal hygiene.
Kenya’s daytime temperatures average between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius. This is near similar to Singapore and Hong Kong, China, both of which have recorded more than 200 and 140 cases respectively.
Studies have, however, shown that virus strains such as those that cause common cold and influenza are less likely to spread during warmer seasons. That is why seasonal flu tends to flare during the cold seasons.
Those studies found that the warm and humid weather impedes the viruses’ airborne droplets and renders them unstable on the surface, thereby slowing their spread.
Scientists are still investigating if the new coronavirus will be dampened by warm weather.
“At this time, it is not known whether the spread of Covid-19 will decrease when the weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features associated with Covid-19 and investigations are ongoing,” CDC notes.
Children and youth are also susceptible
A reader asked us whether children and the youth were immune to the new virus as claimed by numerous posts on social media posts. This is false. Anyone of any age can get the virus, though older people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease), according to WHO, appear to be more vulnerable to serious infections.
Scientists define “older adults” as anyone age 60 and up. Data has shown that while the fatality rate of the coronavirus is between two and three per cent, it jumps to 15 per cent for patients aged 80 or above.
Cases of children testing positive for the virus have been reported, although much of their symptoms tend to be milder. This means they can still transfer it to older friends and family.
Coronavirus is believed to have originated from Wuhan, China
Medically it is called SARS-CoV-2
It causes a respiratory disease known as Covid-19
Symptoms include dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath
Incubation ranges from 1 to 14 days
Almost 80 per cent of people recover from the disease
Outbreak declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11
There is no vaccine against the virus as yet
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