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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 1 June, 2020
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Debunked: That WhatsApp message with health tips from a doctor in China is false and misleading

A message claiming to be from a friend’s uncle who works in a hospital in China has been circulating lately.

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A MESSAGE WITH a number of claims about Covid-19 symptoms, the length of time the coronavirus lives on surfaces and ways to stave it off has been widely shared on WhatsApp recently. 

However, most of the claims in this message are false and many are misleading.

The claims include that the virus is “killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees” (false from the evidence so far) and advises people to “try not to drink liquids with ice” because drinking warm water is “effective for all viruses” (false).

The advice in the message claims to be from a friend’s uncle who has a Master’s degree and worked in Shenzhen Hospital in China.

Here is the full message

Let’s break these claims down one by one. 

1. If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold 

Sputum is another word for phlegm. Although a runny nose and phlegm are not the most common symptoms of Covid-19, some patients do report having nasal congestion and a runny nose, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms of Covid-19 can be similar to cold and flu symptoms, the HSE has said. Therefore, a runny nose and phlegm cannot immediately equal a common cold. 

The most common symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, cough shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.  

2. Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose  

It is incorrect to say that pneumonia brought on by Covid-19 always involves a dry cough with no runny nose. 

Dr Kim Roberts, leader of the virology research group in Trinity College Dublin, said none of the common Covid-19 symptoms are indicators of whether the illness will develop into pneumonia. 

Pneumonia is a term to describe the swelling of tissue in the lungs. 

“Many people with a cough might have been diagnosed with the virus, but this might not develop into pneumonia,” Roberts said. 

Pneumonia brought on by Covid-19 inflames the lung membrane and fills liquid into the lung air sacs needed for the intake of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide in our bodies.  

People who have pneumonia are likely to have a cough, according to the HSE. This can be a dry cough or patients might produce phlegm. 

Other common pneumonia symptoms include breathing difficulties, rapid heartbeat and fever. 

3. This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees. It hates the sun.

At the moment, scientists do not know how temperature changes influence the behaviour of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease. 

From the evidence so far, the World Health Organization said the virus can be transmitted in all areas, including those with hot and humid weather conditions.

The WHO also said there is no reason to believe cold weather can kill this coronavirus. 

4. If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.

When people cough or sneeze, they spray droplets from their nose or mouth. If somebody with Covid-19 coughs or sneezes without covering their nose and mouth, droplets containing the virus will travel. 

If you are standing too close to an infected person when this happens, you could breathe in these droplets or they could land on you. 

“When we cough and when we sneeze we create a whole range of different sized particles,” Dr Kim Roberts explained. 

“We think that this virus is transmitted through the big particles and these land very quickly within about a metre of you, and that’s why standing two metres apart is thought to protect you from these droplets.

“We don’t think the virus is efficiently transmitted through these smaller particles that can hang in the air for longer.”

The droplets believed to hold the virus are too heavy to be airborne and they land on objects and surfaces surrounding the person, which is why the HSE also advises cleaning surfaces regularly. 

The WHO recommends maintaining a distance of one metre (three feet) between yourself and anyone coughing or sneezing, but the HSE advises keeping a space of two metres (6.5 feet) between yourself and others. 

5. If it drops on a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours – so if you come into contact with any metal surface – wash your hands as soon as you can with a bacterial soap.

Official advice from the WHO states that it is not certain how long the virus that causes Covid-19 can survive outside the body.

However, the same guidance does note that the new virus appears to behave like other coronaviruses that have been tested before.

One study, recently published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, looked at how long other coronaviruses – like Sars and Mers – survived on materials including various metals at different temperatures.

It found that different strains of Sars survived on metal for up to five days, paper for up to five days and plastic for up to nine days. 

Mers was found to survive on steel and plastic at 20 degrees Celsius for up to 48 hours.

As the virus can survive on most surfaces, there is no logic in singling out metal surfaces. 

Simple household disinfectants can kill the virus on surfaces. The HSE recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces regularly. 

Regular and proper hand washing is also continuously advised by health officials. People are advised to avoid touching their face with their hands.

6. On fabric it can survive for 6-12 hours, normal laundry detergent will kill it. 

Again, not enough research has been looked into the length of time this particular coronavirus lasts on fabric.

Detergents will kill the virus as they contain soap. 

Those who are self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms are advised by the HSE to was clothes with detergent at a temperature above 60 degrees Celsius. 

7. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink liquids with ice. 

“Drinking water is good, staying hydrated is good, but it isn’t going to wash away the virus,” Dr Kim Roberts said.  

“Some people have it in their heads that because there is a fatty layer around the virus, there’s an idea that hot water can help to melt it away, but that’s not true.” 

Roberts said that drinking water, warm or cold, has no effect in washing the virus out of your system or into your stomach from your respiratory tract. 

Similarly, when washing your hands, cold water is just as effective as hot water because soap and the mechanical action of hand washing is what works to get the virus off your hands. 

TheJournal.ie debunked a similar claim previously that drinking water every 15 minutes can protect you from getting the coronavirus. This is not true. 

8. Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minutes, but – a lot can happen during that time – you can rub your eyes, pick your nose unwittingly and so on. 

Frequent hand washing is one of the most important ways of protecting yourself and others against Covid-19. 

However, it is incorrect to say that the virus can only live on your hands for five to ten minutes. This is a new virus and scientists don’t yet know how long it can last on surfaces, including skin.

The WHO says studies suggest coronaviruses may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, so frequent hand washing is crucial. 

Guidance on how to properly wash your hands can be found on the HSE website and in our video below.  

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

9. You should also gargle as a prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.

This claim had also been circulating separately, allegedly from a top Chinese respiratory expert. It is not true. 

“No present findings have suggested that saline water can kill the new coronavirus,” a Chinese epidemiologist who discovered the Sars coronavirus, Zhong Nanshan, told AFP recently. 

10. Can’t emphasise enough – drink plenty of water.

Again, water is great for hydration but will not prevent or get rid of the coronavirus. 

Other claims

The message also listed a number of claims for how Covid-19 spreads. 

It claimed that the virus will “first infect the throat” and you will have a sore throat for about three or four days.

The message continues to say the virus “blends into a nasal fluid” that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This, it claims, takes about five or six further days beyond the first few days of a sore throat.

The message says a high fever and breathing difficulties come with the pneumonia. 

Its final point is that the nasal congestion “is not like the normal kind” and instead feels like drowning.

This is incorrect. Symptoms differ on a case by case basis. It can take up to 14 days for any symptoms of the disease to appear and they can be similar to cold and flu symptoms. 

Only some patients experience nasal congestion as a Covid-19 symptom. 

According to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data from China, an estimated 80% of all cases had mild to moderate disease (including non-pneumonia and pneumonia cases), 13.8% had severe disease and 6.1% were critical.

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever – a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above 
  • A cough – any cough, not just dry
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties 

People who have any of these symptoms are asked by the HSE to behave as if they have the virus and self-isolate for 14 days. People who fall under the current testing criteria in Ireland will be tested. 

china doctor

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages are from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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