Coronavirus: Misinformation and setting the record straight

by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.

Are you getting tons of questions about coronavirus from clients, peers, and loved ones?

What’s fact, and what’s fiction?

Our Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy, Alex Ruani, gives us the answers to some of the toughest questions, and puts an end to some of the misinformation going around.

Alex’s motto?

Be prepared, not scared.

Here’s why…

What is coronavirus?

I see some confusion in the media surrounding the terminology.

The novel coronavirus, the virus itself, is called SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.

The infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19.

In short: SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, and COVID-19 is the disease it causes.

This disease can affect your lungs and airways, and may further develop into severe pneumonia and sepsis in some instances.

How does it spread?

The COVID-19 disease is mainly spread through small, liquid respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or exhales.

If you breathe in these droplets, or if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after being in contact with objects or surfaces where these droplets landed, you are at risk of catching COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

Not everyone develops the same symptoms or with the same intensity.
In fact, many people become infected and don’t display any symptoms for days.

And that’s a problem, as they may pass the virus on to others, even when they haven’t developed any symptoms themselves.

Symptoms to look out for include fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and tiredness. Some may also experience a sore throat, nasal congestion, or diarrhoea.

But based on the most recent data, only 1 in 6 infected people gets seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. People with underlying health conditions may suffer from more severe symptoms.

What should I do if I think I have coronavirus? What steps do I take?

If you develop a fever of at least 37.8 degrees Celsius, or a new, persistent cough, the UK government advises that you and others in your household should self-isolate for 14 days.

So, if you feel unwell, stay home. Try not to have any visitors and ask people to leave deliveries outside.

This is to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 infection risk.

The novel coronavirus is most likely to spread within the first 3 days of having symptoms, but less likely to spread after day 7.

How do you get tested in the UK? At what point should you go to the hospital?

Be prepared, not scared.

If you’re unwell but keep getting worse, cannot cope with your symptoms, or these don’t get any better after 7 days, you can call 111 or use the NHS 111 online service.

It’s important you don’t go to a GP, hospital or pharmacy in order to protect yourself and others from infection.

The NHS 111 helpline will ask you a series of questions and will do a risk assessment on you and advise when and how you can get medically tested for SARS-CoV-2 if necessary.

How can I prevent getting coronavirus?

There’s a misconception that coronavirus is airborne.

It is actually transmitted through small, liquid respiratory droplets.

These droplets may not only hang in the air, particularly in closed spaces, but they may also contaminate surfaces.

When we touch these contaminated surfaces with our hands, we can pick up the virus and transfer it into our bodies through our eyes, nose, or mouth.

To reduce your chances of being infected, be cautious:

  • We non-consciously touch our faces about 20 times per hour. If your hands touched a contaminated surface, you may transfer the virus. So, don’t touch your face without having washed your hands first, or try to keep your hands below your shoulder level if you haven’t washed them yet.
  • Avoid contact with common surfaces as they may be contaminated. Handshakes should be avoided and replaced with the now socially accepted elbow bump.
  • Wash your hands when you get home, into work, or after touching common surfaces like doorknobs or staircase railings. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand gel.
  • Wash them properly. That means with soap and water. Not just your palms, also between fingers, under your nails, your forehands, and your knuckles. The virus is removed through mechanical action, so go over every bit of your hands for about 20 seconds – roughly the amount of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve, but never your hands. Bin used tissues immediately since the virus can live on these for several hours.
  • If anyone is coughing or sneezing, especially in a closed environment, maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (2 steps) to avoid breathing in any infected respiratory droplets.

How long does coronavirus survive on surfaces?

I get asked a lot how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus lives on surfaces.

Based on the most recent research, the range we are seeing is from a few hours to a day or 2, and sometimes 3 days if we have the perfect temperature, humidity, and surface conditions.

The virus lives longer on plastic, steel, and non-porous surfaces. So regularly wipe down your most used personal items and common surfaces, including keyboards, doorknobs, taps, mobiles, and phone cases.

We hold our mobiles in our hands for several hours daily, and often bring them close to our face. This means we need to treat mobiles as an extension of our hands and sanitise them regularly, too.

And how long does coronavirus live in the air?

Liquid respiratory droplets contaminated with the virus may temporarily hang in the air. As of today, the longest we have seen this novel coronavirus to be suspended in the air is about 3 hours.

Outdoors isn’t much of a problem. We are more likely to inhale these contaminated droplets in a closed room or enclosed environment where someone coughed or sneezed, even if they did so before we walked in. This is why adequate ventilation and even distancing (at least 1 metre) from someone coughing or sneezing are key in reducing your chances of getting infected.

What can I do to help?

There’s a lot you can do to help.

We need to take personal and social responsibility.

It is up to each of us and our own personal and social behaviours to reduce the rate at which the COVID-19 virus spreads so we can flatten the infection peak during the cold season.

Even if you’re young and have a strong immunity, you can still be incubating the virus symptom-free and transmitting it to others who don’t have a strong immunity or are currently fighting another infection. You don’t want to be putting their lives at risk.

Start by monitoring your own hygiene behaviours every day.

Minimise your chances of getting infected or infecting others. The COVID-19 virus is mainly spread through small, liquid respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or exhales.

So, try to limit that spread by washing your hands regularly, coughing or sneezing on a disposable tissue or sleeve, and self-isolating for a week if you develop a fever (however minor) or a new, persistent cough.

What kind of misinformation is being circulated about coronavirus?

A lot of misinformation is going around at the moment, so be sure to follow credible sources only, like the World Health Organization, the NHS in the UK, the CDC in the US, and authorities who are dealing with this pandemic head on.

Several tweets and posts diminish the gravity of coronavirus, saying that it isn’t more than a minor cold for most people.


The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is more infectious than the common flu. Recent research shows that coronavirus can spread 2 or 3 times faster than the influenza virus. That is, for each infected person we can expect another 2 or 3 people to get infected, too.

What’s more, there’s no vaccine approved, and the fatality rate is much higher than the common flu.

Beware of “fake news” circulating in social media posts and forwarded chain messages. Most notably the 10-second breathing test, saying that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds you don’t have coronavirus. None of this is medically accurate.

And don’t think that a post is accurate just because it got thousands of likes or was written by a celebrity.

Only follow credible sources of information from health authorities like the World Health Organization.

Staying well informed is critical. This will help us all feel prepared, not scared.

Should we be worried?

80% of us are likely to get infected within a year or before a vaccine is made according to worst-case projections in the UK. So, it’s more of a matter of WHEN we’ll catch it, rather than IF. But if we can slow down the spread, we can then put the most vulnerable ones in hospital and save them. So be prepared, not scared.

Share this valuable information with your friends, family, co-workers, and loved ones – click here for a PDF download!

Alex Ruani

Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy and Doctoral Researcher on Nutrition Science Education at University College London

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