Debunking the six Covid-19 myths that won’t go away

As the world continues to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also fighting a different sort of pandemic: misinformation and covidiocy.

This is just as harmful as the virus itself since some people are downplaying the severity of the disease and ignoring the public health protocols meant to curb its spread.

As at August 25, the virus has infected over 23 million people and killed more than 800,000 globally, according to statistics from Worldometer.

Here are some of the dangerous medical advice, hoaxes and false news that are waging a war against the gains made on the pandemic:

Hydroxychloroquine can cure Covid-19

Numerous studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine does not have clinical benefits in treating Covid-19.

The drug, a treatment for malaria, lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis, has been under study as a possible treatment for Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization, but current data shows that it can reduce deaths among hospitalised Covid-19 patients, nor help people with moderate disease.

“The use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine is accepted as generally safe for patients with malaria and autoimmune diseases, but its use was here not indicated and without medical supervision can cause serious side effects and should be avoided,” WHO stated.

The drug was touted by US President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus cure. But WHO says more decisive research is needed to assess its value in patients with mild disease or as pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis in patients exposed to Covid-19.

The US Food and Drug Administration also determined that the drug did not meet "the statutory criteria" for emergency use authorisation as they are unlikely to be effective in treating Covid-19 based on the latest scientific evidence in June.

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat coronavirus.

Those infected with the virus can only receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness receive optimised supportive care.

Use of face masks can lead to oxygen deficiency

Rongo University student produce face masks after the institution got clearance by government. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Although early guidance on face masks from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO was confusing and inconsistent, there is now a strong consensus among public health authorities — supported by numerous studies — that wearing masks can limit the spread of the virus.

The of face masks, especially when social-distancing might not be possible, has been critical in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In May, the Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai warned that people would be arrested if found in public without a face mask.

Kenyans had been taking it lightly the requirement of wearing masks as one of the precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

But still, even now many people still refuse to wear masks. To some, the face coverings make them feel uncomfortable and think it could lead to carbon dioxide intoxication or oxygen deficiency.

But the fact is, the prolonged use of face masks does not cause carbon dioxide intoxication nor oxygen deficiency.

WHO has urged people to ensure that masks fit properly and tight enough to allow one to breathe normally. “Do not re-use a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp,” advises WHO.

High temperatures and Covid-19

The WHO has dismissed reports that exposing yourself to the sun or temperatures higher than 25°C will protect you from Covid-19.

“You can catch Covid-19, no matter how sunny or hot the weather is. Countries with hot weather have reported cases of Covid-19,” it said.

According to WHO, the virus can be transmitted in any climate, including areas with hot and humid weather.

“There is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill new coronavirus or other diseases. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the external temperature or weather,” advises WHO.

Young and healthy individuals are safe

New Covid-19 infections have skyrocketed among the young people in Kenya. Even as men over 60 years continue to form the bulk of the Covid-19 fatalities at 33 per cent, young adults have not been spared either.

And while the death rate is lower among young adults, many are struggling with long-term effects from the disease.

A report from the Ministry of Health revealed that men aged between 50 and 60 years were the second high-risk group at 15 per cent, followed by those in the 40-50 age bracket at 14 per cent.

Infants and those aged between 20 and 40 years have also seen the numbers of fatalities due to Covid-19 rise, pointing to a reality that the disease does not only affect the elderly.

Health professionals have said that even young and healthy people are succumbing to the infection, sometimes deteriorating rapidly and taking doctors by surprise.

I don’t know anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus

Do you know anyone personally who has tested positive for coronavirus? That’s the question posed by many skeptics of the virus. 

And since most of the infections in the country are asymptomatic, according to the Health Ministry, it may be hard to tell who is infected in case no testing has been done.

“With the fight against the virus continuing, we have realized that over 80 per cent of our patients in hospitals are asymptomatic and, therefore, can and may be managed from home,” CS Mutahi Kagwe announced in one of his national briefings.

The decision was arrived at when two health facilities in Nairobi, Mbagathi and Kenyatta National Hospital, were approaching their full capacity.

The Ministry of Health cautions that the infection curve has not flattened five months after the virus was first detected in Kenya.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi says that a drop in the number of positive cases is not indicative of flattening of the curve amid testing bottlenecks and the emergence of new hotspots in rural counties.

"The curve is not flattening, instead it is peaking," says Dr Mwangangi adding that Kenya has a positivity rate of 7.9 per cent as opposed to 5 per cent, the benchmark approved by the WHO to indicate that a country was flattening the curve.

Covid-19 is fake news

Police enforce a lockdown in Old Town, Mombasa. [File, Standard]

Even with the daily increase in the numbers of infection, more than half of the population in Old Town, Mombasa, do not believe the virus exists.

According to a report published by Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), 58.6 per cent of residents of Old Town, one of the first areas to be declared Covid-19 hot-spots in Kenya, do not believe coronavirus is real.

On the other hand, 41.3 per cent of the locals believe the virus is real, but it does not exist in Old Town, Kenya or anywhere else in Africa.

Some respondents say that they believed the virus' impact and presence in Kenya was exaggerated.

They also believe that the disease, if it exists, cannot infect them.

The report indicates that many residents of Old Town ignored calls to be tested for the virus during the one month of lockdown and afterwards.

"Many Old Town residents do not believe the virus is real, or that it can affect them," states the report.

But the fact is the highly contiguous virus exists and is killing thousands globally, even as the doctors continue to learn more about the virus.