Posts are circulating false and misleading tips on social media — in some cases wrongly attributed to Stanford University — about how people can monitor and avoid the coronavirus.
As the U.S. and countries around the world work to address the pandemic spread of COVID-19, posts disseminated by tens of thousands on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are feeding misinformation to people about how to avoid and self-test for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The posts provide a series of supposed tips about the virus, such as wrongly instructing people to hold their breath to gauge whether they’ve been infected and falsely suggesting that water consumption can kill the virus. Similar claims were promoted in a text-based image posted on the Instagram account of actress Debra Messing, which has since been deleted. They were also shared widely in screenshots on Twitter.
The posts in some cases cite “Taiwan experts” or “Japanese doctors,” and many begin by falsely sourcing the text to “STANFORD HOSPITAL BOARD.” Stanford Health Care has debunked that attribution.
We consulted Krys Johnson, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Temple University, who called the posts “deeply troubling because they make incorrect and dangerous claims.” She recommended people consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization, before spreading purported health advice.
Here are some of the claims from the posts, and why they’re inaccurate:
Claim: “Take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, etc., it proves there is no Fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection.”
Facts: There’s no evidence to suggest this is a valid test for COVID-19. What’s more: “We know that people infected with coronavirus show symptoms within 14 days and that this virus can lead to severe complications,” Johnson told us via email, “but those are acute respiratory distress (not being able to breathe) and septic shock (the virus infecting your bloodstream), not fibrosis, as mentioned here.”
The CDC recommends seeking medical advice by phone if you develop the main symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough and shortness of breath — and have been in contact with someone who has the disease, or have recently traveled to an area experiencing a spread of the virus.
Claim: “If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold … Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.”
Facts: While the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are “fever, tiredness, and dry cough,” according to WHO, some patients do have “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.” Some who are infected don’t show any symptoms. Also, a WHO report said that, based on an examination of more than 55,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 33% had sputum (phlegm) production.
Claim: “Everyone should ensure your mouth & throat are moist, never dry. Take a few sips of water every 15 minutes at least. Why? Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids will wash them down through your throat and into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will kill all the virus.”
Facts: The WHO has shot down this theory, saying that, “[w]hile staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus infection.”
Likewise, Johnson said that the “moistness of your mouth and throat have nothing to do with the likelihood that you will develop disease, and simply drinking water to ‘rinse’ your digestive track will not prevent you from being infected or from getting sick.” Water consumption, she added, “has no bearing on the virus getting into your airways and lungs; if you breathe in an infected person’s respiratory droplets, the virus will travel through your airways.”
CDC officials recommend people clean their hands often, for at least 20 seconds — or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol as an alternative — and avoid touching their faces and mouths. They also suggest social distancing, which can help curb the spread of the virus.
Claim: “This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees.”
Facts: What, exactly, these posts are referencing is unclear. The CDC has said it’s “not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19.” We’ve previously written about how it’s unknown whether warming weather will help temper the outbreak.
The WHO has said there is “no reason to believe that this virus would behave differently in different temperatures.” Johnson noted that Italy “has a particularly mild winter and they have had widespread transmission of COVID-19, so it is unlikely that the outside temperature will affect this disease.”
More than 125,000 people across the globe have been infected by the coronavirus, leading to more than 4,700 deaths. We’ve reported on many falsehoods and misleading statements about the new coronavirus. If you see potentially false or misleading content circulating about COVID-19, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
Avril, Tom. “Coronavirus has shut down schools and events. Here’s why that helps, short- and long-term.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 8 Mar 2020.
“Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.” Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.
“Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) | Situation Report – 51.” World Health Organization. 11 Mar 2020.
Johnson, Krys. Assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, Temple University. Email to FactCheck.org. 12 Mar 2020.
“Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” World Health Organization. 20 Feb 2020.
“Steps to Prevent Illness.” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 12 Mar 2020.
Weinberg, Abigail. “There’s a Facebook Coronavirus Post Going Viral Claiming to be From Stanford. Don’t Believe It.” Mother Jones. 11 Mar 2020.
“WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020.” World Health Organization. 11 Mar 2020.
“WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Mission briefing on COVID-19 – 12 March 2020.” World Health Organization. 12 Mar 2020.
World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO). “Q: Does drinking water alleviates a sore throat, does this also protect against 2019-nCoV infection? A: While staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus infection.” bit.ly/COVID19Mythbus #COVID19 #KnowtheFacts.” Twitter. 26 Feb 2020.