Viral post about someone’s uncle’s coronavirus advice is not all it’s cracked up to be

5th Mar 2020

Claim

If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold, not Covid-19.

Conclusion

These are the symptoms for the common cold, but they don’t rule out Covid-19.

 

Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.

 

Some Covid-19 patients do get pneumonia, and one of the symptoms is a dry cough. A runny nose doesn’t rule out Covid-19.

 

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

 

There’s no evidence for this. There’s evidence that similar viruses transmit less well in the heat, but many countries with reported Covid-19 cases are experiencing temperatures higher than this.

 

If someone with the new coronavirus sneezes, it travels about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne

 

How far the droplets spread from a sneeze depends on environmental factors, but it is likely to be several metres.

 

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.

 

We don’t know how long the virus survives on surfaces yet—it may be between hours and days.

 

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

 

There’s no evidence yet that the virus can survive in clothing and be transmitted this way. Any soiled clothing should be thoroughly washed.

 

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

 

There’s no evidence that the temperature of liquids consumed can either protect you from or cure diseases caused by viruses.

 

Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minutes.

 

We don’t know how long the virus can last on the skin, especially not down to the minute. But you should regularly wash your hands.

 

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

 

There’s no evidence that this works as a preventative or a cure for the virus.

 

The symptoms of Covid-19 are that it first infects the throat, so you’ll have a sore throat lasting 3 or 4 days. The virus then blends into nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs causing pneumonia. This takes about 5 or 6 days. With pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty breathing

 

This is a roughly accurate description of the most common symptoms, although not everyone with Covid-19 gets pneumonia, and the symptoms may not come in this exact order or at these times.

Claim 1 of 10

We’ve been asked to check a Facebook post that has been shared hundreds of thousands of times, which made a number of claims about the symptoms of Covid-19 and ways to prevent the disease.

The claims were previously a mixture of accurate and inaccurate. While the post did include some basic advice that is worth following, it also contained some claims which could have falsely led people to believe they don’t have Covid-19 when they do, or which suggested ways of preventing infection that will not work.

During the writing of this fact check, the post was edited by the author to alter some of the more inaccurate claims, and after we first published this article, the person who posted it removed the inaccurate claims. However, as the post had already been shared over 300,000 before these edits occurred, we’re going to focus on the original version of the text as it will have been so widely seen.

“If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold”

Having a runny nose and sputum (phlegm coughed up from the lungs) doesn’t rule out having Covid-19.

It’s true that early studies on the new coronavirus have found that a runny nose (rhinorrhoea in medical terminology) is a relatively uncommon symptom, but some patients did have it. At least one other study has found it to be a more common symptom. So if you have a runny nose you may still have Covid-19.

Covid-19’s main symptoms are a new, continuous cough, and a high temperature, but the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says “sputum production” is a less common, but still reported, symptom. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a third of coronavirus patients were producing sputum.

(In the newly edited version of the Facebook post, this claim has been changed to “If you have a runny nose and sputum, you MAY have a common cold/flu it isn't necessarily that you've caught the virus” which is accurate.)

“Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose." 

The term pneumonia describes the swelling of lung tissue. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection, and has been seen in Covid-19 patients. One of the most common symptoms of Covid-19 is a dry cough. But as we’ve already said, having a runny nose doesn’t rule out Covid-19.

(The edited version of the post removed this claim.) 

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

Because the virus is relatively new to us, there’s a lot we don’t know about it, like the temperatures it can withstand. You should be wary of sources that claim to have details this specific so early after the discovery of the virus. What we can do is look at related viruses. Coronavirus is a family of viruses including the common cold, SARS, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19).

Studies have found that another coronavirus, MERS, was more stable at lower temperatures, and a warmer, humid environment slowed its transmission. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says coronaviruses in general can be destroyed at cooking-levels of heat, at around 70°C.

Despite this, it’s worth noting that going in the sun is unlikely to protect you from the virus, and you’re better off concentrating on washing your hands thoroughly. Some of the countries with confirmed coronavirus cases have warmer climates where the temperature is often above 27°C.

(The edited version of the post removed this claim.)

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

There is no evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) spreads differently to other coronaviruses, which can be transmitted by droplets produced by coughs and sneezes. It’s difficult to say exactly how far droplets spread when you sneeze, as it depends on a range of factors like humidity and temperature. Research from MIT in recent years has shown that droplets from sneezes have the potential to spread several metres from the sneezing person. The NHS says you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve, but not your hands, when you sneeze, and put used tissues in the bin and wash your hands afterwards.

(The newly edited version of the post removes this claim.)

 “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.”  

The WHO says “Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

“This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).”

We don’t know how long the virus that causes Covid-19 can survive on surfaces yet, but washing your hands well with soap is good advice to prevent you picking up germs from surfaces.

(The edited version of the post removed this claim.)

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

The UK government advises people staying at home because of suspected Covid-19 symptoms that: “When cleaning you should use your usual household products, like detergents and bleach as these will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces.”

The advice says it is particularly important to clean “frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, handrails, remote controls and table tops.”

It adds: “To minimise the possibility of dispersing virus through the air, do not shake dirty laundry.

Wash items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. All dirty laundry can be washed in the same load.

If you do not have a washing machine, wait a further 72 hours after your 7-day (for individual isolation) or 14-day isolation period (for households) has ended when you can then take the laundry to a public launderette.” We have more information on the NHS’s guidance on how long isolation should last at the end of this article.

The CDC recommends that people who are in the same household as those with Covid-19 or someone suspected of having it, or those who are intimate partners or caregivers of them, should remove and wash soiled clothing, and wear disposable gloves when handling it. It says “In general, [use] a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label.”

We haven’t found any reliable source saying exactly how long the virus can survive on fabric. 

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

We can’t find any scientific evidence that warm water can cure or prevent diseases caused by viruses, although hot drinks can be a comfort to those suffering with coughs and colds.

(The edited version of the post just claims that you should avoid drinking liquids with ice.)

“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”

Washing your hands thoroughly, and often, is good advice. It’s not clear exactly how long the virus can ‘survive’ on your hands, especially not down to the minute. But the post is right to mention that rubbing your eyes, mouth or nose is problematic if you haven’t washed your hands, because these areas are a prime entry point for viruses and bacteria.

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

Other fact checkers have also written about this claim, which was attributed to respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan, a key figure during the SARS outbreak. The hospital where he worked debunked the rumour via a post on social media site Weibo.

Gargling with salt water is recommended by the NHS for adults who have a sore throat, but only to relieve symptoms once you have caught it, not as a preventative measure. The WHO has said that there’s no evidence saline can prevent Covid-19.

(In the updated version of the post, this claim was changed to read “Gargling with salt water is recommended by the NHS for adults who have a sore throat, but only to relieve symptoms once you have caught it, not as a preventative measure”.)

“THE SYMPTOMS

  1. It will first infect the throat, so you'll have a sore throat lasting 3/4 days
  2. The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.
  3. With the pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing.
  4. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind. You feel like you're drowning. It's imperative you then seek immediate attention by telephoning 111 or your doctor - don't visit.”  

In general, this is a roughly accurate description of the common symptoms of Covid-19, although some patients may experience other symptoms and the timing of those symptoms may differ.

The CDC says that sore throat has been reported “in some patients”. More commonly, symptoms include fever, a cough, muscle pain and shortness of breath, as the post claims. Not everyone who has Covid-19 will get pneumonia though. The NHS does not mention nasal congestion that ‘feels like drowning’ as a specific symptom for Covid-19.

The post was right at the time it was published to advise you to call 111 if you think you have the virus, and not visit your GP or a hospital in person. This advice has since changed.

The NHS now advises that if you have a high temperature or new, continuous cough you should stay at home for seven days.If the fever has gone after that time you may leave your home again. If you still have a high temperature, remain at home until it returns to normal. You can return to your normal routine if you still have a cough but no high temperature, as the cough can last for several weeks after the infection. 

If you live with others, they should stay at home for at least 14 days to stop the virus spreading. After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. Anyone who has had symptoms should remain at home for seven days from the first day of their symptoms (even if this means being at home for more than 14 days in total). 

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term health condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, the NHS says to try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days. If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

Do not go to a GP, pharmacy or hospital.

If these symptoms don’t go away after seven days, if you can’t cope with them at home or if you get worse then use the NHS online 111 coronavirus service. If you can’t get the help you need there then you should call the 111 phone service.

If you have a medical emergency, you should still call 999 as you would normally.

(In the updated version of the post, point number four was edited to remove the claim that nasal congestion which feels like drowning is a symptom.)

Update 6 March 2020

We updated this piece after the original Facebook post was updated to remove the false and unevidenced claims.

Update 13 March 2020

We updated this article to reflect the latest guidance on what to do if you suffer from symptoms of Covid-19.

Update 17 March 2020

This piece was updated following changes to the NHS guidance for people with Covid-19 symptoms.

We aim for our fact checks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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