“There are so many myths and misconceptions about coronavirus at the moment,” says Dr Julia Turner, senior technical advisor, from Right to Care. Right to Care is a leading healthcare NGO helping the Department of Health during the pandemic. “We believe it’s necessary to sort facts from fiction during this outbreak, so we have compiled a list of some of the most common fake news. It is difficult enough for the country to deal with the pandemic without all the fake information,” she says.
Fake: People coming door-to-door to test you, might hurt you by sticking the swabs into your mouth and nose.
Fact: Trained community health workers are doing door-to-door screening, not testing. Screening involves asking household members if they have any symptoms of coronavirus such as cough, fever, sore throat or shortness of breath. Only people with symptoms will be referred to a qualified nurse or doctor who has been trained to test for coronavirus. The swab test is not dangerous at all when performed by a trained healthcare professional.
Fake: The swabs used to take mouth and nose tests for coronavirus will give you coronavirus.
Fact: The swabs come in sealed sterile packages and are opened just before they are used to test people. They have not been tampered with and cannot give you coronavirus.
Fake: Injecting yourself with disinfectant might treat coronavirus
Fact: Disinfectants should never be injected or drunk as they could cause significant damage or even kill you.
Fake: South Africans don’t need to worry about coronavirus because we’ve had BCG vaccines.
Fact: BCG vaccines have been given to babies in South Africa since 1973 to prevent the severest forms of TB. There is no evidence that they provide any protection against coronavirus. This rumour started when researchers looked at data from 178 countries and found that the countries which are worst affected, do not have routine BCG vaccinations. This is interesting, however, there are many other reasons that these countries may have different numbers of coronavirus cases, including the fact that this virus is spreading in different countries at different times. We do not know if any of the differences are due to BCG vaccines or not.
Fake: Masks prevent you from getting coronavirus.
Fact: Dr Zweli Mkhize, our health minister has stated, “Wearing masks is important. We want to recommend widespread use of masks. We are recommending that people can use cloth masks, just make sure there’s at least three layers of material.” If you wear a mask it will reduce the chance of your spreading coronavirus when you speak, cough or sneeze, however, there is no evidence that homemade or material masks offer any protection to you from getting coronavirus from someone else. As they say in Czechoslovakia: My mask protects you, your mask protects me! Don’t think that if you are wearing a material mask, then you are not at risk. You still need to protect yourself by avoiding people, not touching surfaces which might be contaminated and washing your hands well and regularly. If you have a material mask, it must be washed daily with detergent.
Do not wear a medical mask unless you are sick. These need for nurses and doctors in clinics and hospitals. If healthcare workers don’t have enough masks, they will get coronavirus and there will be no one to look after the people who are sick. If you are sick and coughing, then you should also wear a clean medical mask which a healthcare worker can give you to protect the people around you.
Fake: Gloves protect you from getting coronavirus.
Fact: It is often better not to wear gloves at all and to wash your hands with soap and water after touching anything and definitely before touching your face or touching food. If you wear gloves and touch one thing and then another, you will just spread coronavirus from one thing to another. You would need to have enough pairs of gloves to change them after each time you touch something. You cannot re-wear dirty gloves, as coronavirus can stay on the gloves for more than 8 hours.
Fake: Only white people get coronavirus.
Fact: Everyone is susceptible to coronavirus. All ages, genders, races, and cultures living in South Africa can get it. It is similar to flu, in that all humans can get it. Unlike flu where some people may have some immunity against it, no one has immunity against coronavirus
Fake: Chloroquine and ARVs treat or prevent coronavirus.
Fact: No treatment has yet proven to work effectively on coronavirus. In some studies chloroquine and ARVs have shown some benefit but in other studies they have not. More studies are needed. Trials are ongoing and have been started in South Africa as well as many other countries in the world.
Fake: Only people like that get coronavirus. It’s because of them that we are suffering.
Fact: There is nothing to be embarrassed about if you get coronavirus and no reason to judge people who get it. Anyone can get it as it does not discriminate between race, culture, gender or nationality. You wouldn’t discriminate against someone who gets a cough or flu, why would you discriminate against someone who gets coronavirus?
Fake: There’s no treatment, so you can never get better if you get coronavirus.
Fact: There is no specific treatment currently, but around 98% of people will recover as their own immune systems will fight the virus. However, about 20% of people will need to go to hospital for extra support and oxygen, and around 2% will die.
Fake: People with HIV will die from coronavirus.
Fact: We do not know exactly how people with HIV will respond to coronavirus as there have not been sufficient cases worldwide yet, but the South African medical fraternity believes that HIV infected people who are taking their ARVs and have a suppressed viral load and a good CD4 count should cope as well as people without HIV. If you want to know your HIV status, you can go to your healthcare facility to test, even during lockdown. However, people who are not taking their ARVs, may be at higher risk of severe disease from coronavirus. Remember to take and collect your medicine. It’s very important if you are HIV positive.
Fake: Coronavirus won’t affect people living in hot climates.
Fact: This is untrue as people in South Africa have become infected with coronavirus even when the weather has been hot. Neither hot nor cold weather can prevent you from getting coronavirus.
Fake: The world is over-reacting to coronavirus and it is just like the flu
Fact: COVID-19 has a higher death rate and spreads much more quickly and easily than normal flu and therefore can lead to high numbers of deaths in a short space of time.
Right to Care is supporting the Department of Health with its coronavirus response providing training and technical assistance including coordination, dedicated disaster management, enhanced surveillance, case identification and contact tracing, enhancing capacity for screening, testing, case management and communication.
Right to Care is a non-profit organisation that supports and delivers prevention, care and treatment services for HIV and TB. Through technical assistance, Right to Care supports private sector, the Department of Health and the Department of Correctional Services. In addition, through direct service delivery, Right to Care treats patients for HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections.