Viral posts sharing symptoms and treatments for Covid-19 contain false information

20 March 2020
What was claimed

Drink plenty of water

Our verdict

Staying hydrated is good for you, but doesn't prevent or cure Covid-19

What was claimed

If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold.

Our verdict

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

What was claimed

Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.

Our verdict

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.

What was claimed

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

Our verdict

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.

What was claimed

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

Our verdict

Environmental factors impact how far droplets from a sneeze can travel, but it is likely to be several metres.

What was claimed

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.

Our verdict

It’s not yet known exactly how long the virus survives on surfaces.

What was claimed

It can survive for 6-12 hours on fabric and will be killed by normal laundry detergent .

Our verdict

There’s no evidence the virus can survive in clothing and be transmitted this way.

What was claimed

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

Our verdict

There’s no evidence that the temperature of liquids consumed can protect you from viruses.

What was claimed

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

Our verdict

There is no evidence yet on how long the virus can survive on the skin. But it is important to regularly wash your hands.

What was claimed

You should gargle as a prevention with salt in warm water.

Our verdict

There’s no evidence this will prevent or cure the virus.

What was claimed

Covid-19 starts with a sore throat lasting 3-4 days. It then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and the lungs, causing pneumonia, which takes about 5 or 6 days. With pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty breathing. The nasal congestion makes you feel like you’re drowning.

Our verdict

This is a roughly accurate description of the most common symptoms, although not everyone with Covid-19 gets pneumonia. The symptoms may not come in this order or at these times. There have been no reports of sufferers experiencing nasal congestion that makes them feel they are drowning.

Update: official UK guidance on how to avoid catching or spreading the new coronavirus has changed since we first wrote this article. You can read the latest advice on the NHS website here.

A series of different Facebook posts shared thousands of times between them on social media make a number of claims about the symptoms of Covid-19 and ways to prevent the disease. The majority of these claims are inaccurate, and have the potential to cause harm. 

Although some of the advice in the posts, such as washing your hands, is factual and important for people to follow, claims about cures for the virus or symptoms which mean you definitely do not have the new coronavirus are misleading and false. This advice could be harmful if it is followed instead of the official NHS guidance

We checked another version of these posts previously, which was later edited to alter some of the more inaccurate claims. The series of identical Facebook posts this article refers to have not been edited and are still sharing incorrect information. The posts all claim the information originated from someone working at Shenzhen Hospital in China. 

 “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) does not mean that you do not have Covid-19. Early studies suggest a runny nose is a relatively uncommon symptom, but some patients did have it. Another study suggests it could be more common, and the World Health Organization (WHO) includes it in its list of possible symptoms.

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

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

Pneumonia—which describes the swelling of lung tissue and is usually caused by a bacterial infection—has been seen in Covid-19 patients. One of the most common symptoms is a dry cough. However, as we said previously, having a runny nose does not rule out having the new coronavirus. 

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

As the new coronavirus is still so new, there is a lot that is still unknown about it. You should be wary of sources that claim to have such specific details so soon after the discovery of a virus. 

We do not know what temperatures SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can withstand. Studies have found that another coronavirus, MERS, was more stable at lower temperatures and a warmer, humid environment slowed its transmission. The WHO says coronaviruses in general—which includes MERS, SARS and the common cold—can be destroyed at cooking-levels of heat, at around 70°C. 

Going in the sun is unlikely to protect you from Covid-19. Some of the countries with confirmed cases have warm climates, where the temperature is regularly above 27°C. We’ve written more about how viruses react in warmer climates here.

“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 virus which causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, spreads differently to other coronaviruses. Other coronaviruses can be transmitted by droplets produced by coughs and sneezes, but it is difficult to say exactly how far droplets spread when you sneeze. The distance they travel can be impacted by a range of factors including humidity and temperature. 

Research from MIT has suggested droplets can spread several metres from the sneezing person. The NHS recommends covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve, but not your hands, when you sneeze. You should put tissues in the bin and wash your hands afterwards. 

“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.”  

No one knows how long the virus that causes Covid-19 can survive on surfaces yet. 

A new study in America, which has not yet gone through the peer-review process to ensure accuracy, suggested that SARS-CoV-2 was detectable on cardboard for up to 24 hours and for two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, although its strength was “greatly reduced”. However, the researchers noted that future experiments should test how viable the virus is when it is spread from nasal secretion or sputum, and in varying environmental conditions rather than a lab. 

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 of humidity of the environment.”

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

The UK government has advised people staying at home because of suspected Covid-19 symptoms to use usual household products like detergent and bleach when cleaning because “these will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces.” 

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. 

 The CDC recommends people in the same household as those with Covid-19 or someone suspected of having it, or their intimate partners or caregivers, should remove and wash soiled clothing and wear disposable gloves when handling it. It says normal laundry detergent and the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label should be used. 

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. Hot drinks can be a comfort to those suffering with coughs and colds.

“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.”

It is good advice to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. However, it is not clear how long Covid-19 can survive on your hands, especially not down to the minute. The post is right to mention that rubbing your eyes, mouth or nose without washing your hands can be a problem, as these are prime entry points 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.

“Can’t emphasise enough – drink plenty of water!” 

We’ve previously checked claims that drinking water will prevent you catching the virus, or cure you if you have it, and found they were incorrect.

The WHO has said: “While staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus infection.”

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.”

This is a roughly accurate description of the common symptoms of Covid-19. Some patients may experience other symptoms, and the timings may differ. 

The CDC says a sore throat is one of the “less commonly reported respiratory symptoms”. The most common symptoms are a fever, cough, muscle pain and shortness of breath, as the post claims, but not everyone who has Covid-19 will get pneumonia. 

The NHS does not mention nasal congestion that ‘feels like drowning’ as symptom of the new coronavirus. 

 New advice published on 18 May now says that anyone experiencing loss of taste or smell (known as 'anosmia') should also self-isolate.

If you experience either of the two major symptoms of Covid-19 the NHS says to look out for (a high temperature or a continuous cough) you should stay at home for seven days and you do not need to contact their 111 service. If your fever is gone after seven days you can return to your normal routine (even if you still have a cough), but if you still have a fever remain at home until your temperature returns to normal levels.

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.

We’ve written more about what you should do if you think you have the new coronavirus, and what anyone you live with should do, here.

Update 18 May 2020

This article was updated to reflect new government guidance about symptoms including a loss of taste or smell.

Update 30 July 2020

We've updated this article to reflect the latest advice from the government.

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