COVID-19 facts vs. myths: Insight from an infectious disease specialist

Photo provided by Memorial Hermann
Photo provided by Memorial Hermann (Science Photo Library)

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Each day brings new details about COVID-19, and the amount of information available can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, much of what you read or hear may not be accurate. Misinformation is spreading throughout communities, leaving people with false details about how to protect their families.

How do you know who to trust? Memorial Hermann-affiliated infectious disease specialist Dr. John Butler helps identify the facts and the fiction about COVID-19, based on official information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Here are some common beliefs about COVID-19. Are they true or false?

There’s a vaccine for COVID-19, so I have nothing to worry about: FALSE

As of now, there is no vaccine for COVID-19. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine, but there is nothing currently available to the public. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent infection is to take simple steps like washing your hands with soap and water, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

Wearing a face mask will protect me from COVID-19: FALSE

If you are not sick, there is no known benefit to wearing a face mask. The only time that wearing a mask is beneficial is if you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, including coughing. The WHO warns that if you wear a mask, but are not sick or caring for someone who is sick, then you are wasting that mask.

Older and sicker people are more likely to get COVID-19: TRUE

Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions usually show more severe symptoms than younger and healthier people. The CDC identifies these groups of people as being at a higher risk:

  • Older adults
  • People with serious chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes

Children are immune from getting COVID-19: FALSE

Although children are less likely to have severe symptoms, they are not immune. Anyone can contract COVID-19. According to the CDC, adults appear to be at a higher risk than children.

Younger people may only have mild symptoms: TRUE

The CDC says that children with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms.

Hand sanitizer is better than washing your hands with soap and water: FALSE

Both hand sanitizer and hand washing are helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but the CDC recommends hand washing as the first choice. The best way to clean your hands is by washing with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, you can use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Soap and water are best because they can reach areas of your hands that hand sanitizer cannot always get to. Also, hand sanitizer cannot clean visibly dirty hands.

Antibacterial wipes and disinfectants kill COVID-19: TRUE

Standard antibacterial wipes and household disinfectants can stop the spread of COVID-19. The WHO says that if you think a surface may be infected, you should clean it with a simple disinfectant to kill the virus.

COVID-19 will get better when the weather gets warmer: UNKNOWN

Other coronaviruses have been less prevalent during warm weather, but we do not know if COVID-19 will respond the same way. According to the CDC, other viruses like the common cold and the flu spread more easily during cold-weather months, but this does not mean it is impossible to become sick during warmer weather.

My pet can spread COVID-19: PROBABLY FALSE

There is no reason to think pets in the United States are a source of infection for COVID-19. So far, the CDC has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with or spreading the virus. However, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you should limit your contact with pets while you are sick, just like you would limit your contact with people.

The flu shot prevents COVID-19: FALSE

The flu shot is specific for the flu virus, and is not effective against other viruses, including COVID-19. The WHO confirms that COVID-19 needs its own vaccine, and researchers are working to develop it.

COVID-19 will eventually become so widespread that everyone will contract the virus: FALSE

Dr. John Butler says that the Greater Houston region is taking containment measures that have shown to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

What should you do now?

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to practice healthy habits. These suggestions may seem basic, but they are some of the best defenses we have against the spread of the virus:

  • Practice social distancing. As a reminder, social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. It can include large-scale measures like canceling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions such as avoiding crowds.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, another option is hand sanitizer. Read the label to be sure it contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue (not with your hand). Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Do not come in close contact with people who are sick.
  • Use household disinfectants to clean things in your home that are frequently touched. This could include doorknobs, countertops, tables and light switches.

If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing, please contact Memorial Hermann to schedule an appointment for one of our 24/7 Virtual Care options. You can conveniently connect online with one of our affiliated health care providers to receive a diagnosis or treatment plan from your home.