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Debunked: No, you can't test for the coronavirus by holding your breath for more than 10 seconds

A widely shared message claims this advice comes from ‘Taiwan experts’. Real experts say there’s no evidence to support it.

A MESSAGE WHICH is being shared widely on WhatsApp and other social media platforms claims holding your breath for more than ten seconds is an effective test for Covid-19.

This claim is not true, according to multiple experts. 

The claim has been shared more than 30,000 times on Facebook in more than a dozen countries.

One of the more widely-shared messages in Ireland refers to ‘Taiwan experts’ and states there is a “simple self-check” a person can do to assess whether they have the virus:

It states:

Take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stuffiness or tightness, etc, it proves there is no fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicating no infection.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic has said there is “no evidence” to support the claims.

WHO recommendations for preventing COVID-19 include washing hands regularly, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and staying at home if you feel unwell.

Karla Ronchini, infectologist at the Gaffrée e Guinle university hospital in Rio de Janeiro, said that holding one’s breath is simply “not a method” to test for COVID-19.

“There is nothing people can do to know if they are infected, except have the test,” she told AFP.

Fernando de la Hoz, an epidemiologist at the National University of Colombia in Bogota, also said claims that successfully holding one’s breath to show the absence of “fibrosis” and therefore of the novel coronavirus were incorrect.

“There is not enough time for the patient to develop fibrosis” in cases of COVID-19, he said.

It is a lung disease caused by chronic exposure, sometimes for years, to industrial pollutants.

At a briefing today, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said there is no basis to this claim. He said the swab test that is currently being used is the “most sensitive” and “most accurate” test for the virus that is currently available.

Henry said these kinds of stories “have a corrosive effect on trust” in the community and appealed to people not to share this kind of misinformation.

According to the HSE, the main symptoms of the Covid-19 virus include: 

  • a cough – this can be any kind of cough
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever (high temperature) or chills

If you have these symptoms you are advised to contact your GP by phone. The GP will assess whether you need to be tested and they will arrange a test for you. 

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

The Irish Lung Fibrosis Association (ILFA) has issued advice for patients, warning that there is “a lot of misinformation in circulation that can lead to heightened anxiety and worry”.

The advice document, put together by Dr Kate O’Reilly respiratory consultant at the Mater Hospital and Nicola Cassidy of ILFA, states:

“It is important to use trusted sources of information to inform yourself about the current news and developments relating to Covid-19.”

They advise that there are laboratory tests available to identify the Covid-19 virus using nose and throat swabs from people with symptoms.

The lengthy document does not advise patients to hold their breath to test for the virus.

Misinfo Graphic Breath Version 2

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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.

- With reporting from AFP.

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