On this page, we bust common hoaxes and myths related to the Coronavirus disease (CoViD-19) which are circulating on online platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. Our group of scientists rely only on reputed scientific and factual sources from around the world while refuting these claims.

The resources here are based on the availability of current scientific evidence, and will be updated as new data emerges.

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Hoax #28: Air-purifiers can protect you from the novel coronavirus

Summary: Misleading (not true)

Response: When a person infected with the novel coronavirus releases infectious droplets, being heavy, they tend to settle down on surrounding surfaces (mostly within a radius of 6 feet). Even if an Most common domestic aair filters is is used, it circulates small volumes of air at a time, taking a while to sample the entire air in the room. Most droplets would readily settle down before reaching the filter, thereby already contaminating the surfaces, and rendering the filter ineffective.cannot filter out the novel coronavirus. Secondly, even if droplet-nuclei (aerosols) were to form, oOnly specialized air filters that meet HEPA standards could potentially can trap themdo this. However, air samples tested in hospital environments, both in patient rooms and wards failed to detect any air-borne particles that were “infectious”. It is due to there is lack of such conclusive evidence that instead of classifying COVID-19 as ‘air-borne’ can remain the novel coronavirus is at all airborne, are . Currently, WHO and CDC contend that the novel coronavirus spreads primarily through proximity and contact. In view of this, it is not clear whether air purifiers are useful in reducing the spread of the virus. 

Evidence:

HEPA air filters capture particles by a variety of mechanisms. While larger particles are captured via direct impact with the filter because of physical constraints, for smaller particles, the random diffusion of air ensures that a large fraction of them also get caught. In particular, a NASA study reports that  HEPA air-filters can remove a large fraction (over 99.9%) of air particles that are sub-micron sized. The diameter of the novel coronavirus is about 0.125 micron (125 nanometer); It is important to note that, such HEPA filters that are able to capture over 99% of particles of this size, need constant cleaning and maintenance to keep up their efficiency. 

However, thus far, studies have not found conclusive evidence that the infective particles of the novel coronavirus circulate in air. This virus is known to spread via droplets that are spewed when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Such droplets travel less than 6 feet before settling down. One study conducted in Singapore was unable to detect viruses from circulating air-samples taken from a patient room. The study did find positive samples of viral RNA in air-outlets, suggesting that droplets are displaced by airflows. The authors acknowledge that whether these samples can actually infect another person remains to be determined. Another study, done in Wuhan, has looked at the aerosol concentration of the virus in a number of settings: the authors found the concentration to be low even in the medical staff areas of hospitals and undetectable or low in the ICU/CCU units of hospitals as well as in public areas.

To summarize, HEPA air purifiers are very efficient in removing air particles and airborne viruses that are in the size range of SARS-Cov2; non-HEPA domestic air purifiers do not necessarily remove particles and viruses at the sub-micron size. However, the efficacy of air-purifiers in reducing the risk of infection by novel coronavirus is questionable given that (a) It takes time to filter the entire air in a closed toom and, (b) we have no conclusive evidence that the virus is at all airborne. If a HEPA air-purifier with filters is used in a patient’s room, then proper protection and sanitation measures must be used at all timeswhen cleaning the filter. 

References and further reading:

  1. Wirecutter article on “Can HEPA  air-purifiers capture coronavirus”.
  2. Can air purifiers filter viral particles?
  3. SARS-CoV-2 Contamination of Air, Environmental Surfaces, and Personal Protective Equipment.
  4. Is the coronavirus airborne? Experts can’t agree.  
  5. CDC: How-COVID-19-Spreads
  6. Aerodynamic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in two Wuhan hospitals.

Hoax #27: Drinking tea can prevent COVID-19 (Reader question)

Summary: Not enough evidence (most likely false) 

Response: Hot tea may provide temporary relief for sore throat symptoms, but it cannot destroy viral particles infecting cells in our nasal tissue and lungs. Even if the virus is in the throat, we would need to maintain a temperature of 56oC to destroy it. This is not possible to do by drinking hot liquids, and would be dangerous if attempted by other means. Although tea is rich in compounds such as flavins, there is no evidence for their antiviral properties in the human body.

Evidence: 

Tea may give symptomatic relief from blocked sinuses and help us feel better. Normal human body temperature is 37oC, and most hot liquids we drink are typically at 57.8oC. To inactivate the novel coronavirus, we would need to maintain the body temperature above 56oC (138.2 deg F) for about 30 minutes. This is impossible to do by drinking hot liquids. In any case, if a virus has already entered our lungs, it is protected from high temperature. Therefore, drinking hot liquids cannot destroy the virus or prevent infection. 

One lab study (2005) showed that Theaflavin (a compound found in Puer and Black tea) can inhibit the activity of a protein from SARS (CoV1) in the laboratory. But this was never tested on living cells, or in patients infected with the novel coronavirus. 

Overall, there is no evidence suggesting that drinking tea can prevent COVID-19.

References and further reading

1. Inhibition of SARS-CoV 3C-like Protease Activity by Theaflavin-3,3′-digallate (TF3) 

2. The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu.

3.COVID-19 truth vs. myths with an expert

4. Inactivation of the coronavirus that induces severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS-CoV

5. First data on stability and resistance of SARS coronavirus compiled by members of WHO laboratory network

6. WHO-Q&A on coronaviruses

7. Coronavirus: Will hot drinks protect you from Covid-19?

Hoax #26: Rinsing hands, mouth and nasal passage with coconut oil, dissolves the virus coat and prevents infection (Reader question)

Summary: Not True 

Response: Although it is true that fat dissolves fat, the outermost layer of a coronavirus (which is made up of a fat-like substance) does not get disrupted by fat alone. Only modified fats called amphipathic molecules, or soaps can achieve this. Applying coconut oil to hands would not affect the coronavirus because coconut oil does not contain amphipathic molecules. Sanitizers with alcohol in them work in a completely different manner, by damaging the proteins in this fat layer. It is advised by WHO to wash hands with either soap and water or alcohol based sanitizers. While some fats (like those in coconut oil) may have antimicrobial properties against some bacterial species in lab tests, there is no evidence that they can impact viruses.

Evidence: Like dissolves like.’ This means that a polar, or charged substance dissolves other polar substances, and nonpolar substances dissolve other nonpolar substances. Polar lipids and soaps can form “micelles that are required to dissolve and break the polar phospholipid bilayers like those of cell membranes and the outermost layer of a coronavirus. Coconut oil consists only of non polar fatty acids, which do not form micelles but instead form globules when mixed with water. Even in their ionised, charged state, fatty acids do not form micelles efficiently due to their chemical structure.

Soap is currently the only recommended way to destroy the envelope of the novel coronavirus. Even in soaps that use coconut oil as a base, the oil is ‘saponified’, meaning that the oil is changed to a different chemical structure through a chemical reaction.

Although studies have suggested limited antimicrobial properties of oils against specific bacteria, nothing has been reported about antiviral properties. Another study reports that a chemical derived from lauric acid (a major constituent – 49% – of coconut oil) is effective at killing viruses including coronaviruses. However, this derivative is not found in coconut oil, and so there is no evidence that coconut oil may kill the novel coronavirus..

References and further reading:

  1. Like Dissolves Like: A Guided Inquiry Experiment for Organic Chemistry
  2. Some correlating principles of detergent action
  3. Preparation of fatty acid micelles
  4. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
  5. Short- and medium-chain fatty acids exhibit antimicrobial activity for oral microorganisms
  6. In vitro effects of monolaurin compounds on enveloped RNA and DNA viruses.
  7. Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: A review

Hoax #25: Consuming garlic can help prevent or recover from COVID-19

Summary: No Evidence, most likely false 

Response:

When the virus infects a person for the first time, an existing army of cells ready to fight all kinds of invading organisms springs into action (the body’s first line of defense, innate immunity). Sometimes the virus is able to bypass this defense and keep multiplying. Over the next few days (or weeks), immune cells learn and mount an active response, generating antibodies that act like guided missiles targeted specifically at the virus (video: Active vs Passive immunity). Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 have these specific antibodies. This component of the immune response is necessary for clearing the virus and recovering. The only way to generate a specific, antibody-driven response is through exposure to the virus, or by vaccination with either inactivated virus or proteins that mimic part(s) of the virus. 

Some studies suggest that components of garlic have properties that benefit general health and affect regulation of the non-specific, innate component of the immune response. However, none of these are known to build specific antibodies against coronavirus that are necessary to recover from COVID-19. By all means, one may consume garlic to help maintain good health, which is associated with good overall immunity. However, there is no evidence proving that these general healthy choices are sufficient to cure or build preventive immunity against COVID-19.  

Evidence:

Both preventing and recovering from COVID-19 require virus-specific, active immunity. All individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 show elevated levels of SARS-CoV2 specific antibodies in their blood. Vaccination strategies for the prevention of COVID-19 that rely on building specific immunity against the novel coronavirus are also being tested. Although some studies suggest that some compounds found in garlic might improve non-specific aspects of the immune response, most are poorly controlled in terms of dose composition and amount, efficacy, placebos, or sample size; or suffer from other methodological issues. For example, although many trials have been conducted to test the effect of garlic on common cold, an independent assessment found that only one trial was well controlled; and even this study administered a dosage equivalent to as many as 10-30 cloves of garlic per person per day. Furthermore, such studies on the efficacy of purified compounds or garlic extracts cannot easily be generalised to the dietary consumption of garlic. In summary, the evidence suggesting that garlic can improve immune function is weak; and there are no studies testing its use against COVID-19. 

References and further reading

  1. Youtube video – Immunity: Active v/s Passive.
  2. Immune responses in COVID-19 and potential vaccines:Lessons learned from SARS and MERS epidemic
  3. Garlic Revisited: Therapeutic for the Major Diseases of Our Times?
  4. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects
  5. Preliminary Identification of Potential Vaccine Targets for the COVID-19 Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Based on SARS-CoV Immunological Studies
  6. Human Coronavirus: Host-Pathogen Interaction

Hoax #24: People living in high altitudes and the North-East are protected from the coronavirus due to higher UV exposure (Reader question)

Summary: Not True

Response:

Electromagnetic radiation in the Ultraviolet (UV) wavelength is generally harmful to living organisms. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can damage human cells causing skin irritation, sunburn and sometimes skin cancer. The UV component of the sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface mostly contains UVA and some amount of UVB, which are not intense enough to kill viruses. The altitude and the UV index (which measures the strength of sunburn producing UV radiation) in many regions in the Indian North East are similar or lower compared to the rest of the country. Moreover, the rise in UV intensity with altitude is not sufficient to kill the virus. This means that hilly areas or the northeastern states are not necessarily protected from COVID-19 infection due to UV radiation from the Sun.

Evidence: 

There are three subtypes of UV light. 

UVC (200-280 nm): UVC is absorbed by RNA and DNA bases, and can damage them photochemically. It is, however, completely filtered out by the ozone layer.

UVB (280-320 nm): UVB can also cause damage to RNA and DNA bases, but it is 20-100 times less efficient than UVC. Almost 90% of UVB is absorbed by the ozone layer.

UVA (320-400 nm): UVA is the major UV component in sunlight (~95%) that reaches the Earth’s surface.

By the time solar radiation reaches the Earth’s surface, UVC is completely absorbed by the ozone layer while UVA remains the major component (~95%). The Earth’s surface receives about 20-40 uW/cm^2 UVB radiation, but this is not sufficient to kill viruses. E.g., a study showed that UVC light intensity of >90 uW/cm^2 for about 60 min is required to inactivate the SARS-CoV virus (which caused the 2003 SARS outbreak). Subsequent studies on the older SARS-CoV virus also found that this virus can be completely inactivated in 15 min by increasing the intensity of the UVC lamp to ~4mW/cm^2 . However, the same study showed that there was no obvious virus inactivation using UVA. In the laboratory, far-UVC (222 nm) can kill influenza viruses without damaging mammalian cells. However, no experiments have been performed in humans yet. Importantly, trying to disinfect one’s skin with UVB/C light can cause sunburn, vision impairment and also skin cancer. Finally, even though UV irradiance increases with altitude (~10-12% per kilometer), the UV index data shows comparable UV radiation in all parts of India, which is not sufficient to kill viruses.

References and further reading:

  1. Ultraviolet – Wikipedia
  2. WHO | Ultraviolet radiation and health
  3. The value of the ratio of UVA to UVB in sunlight
  4. UVA and UVB in sunlight, Optimal Utilization of UV rays in Sunlight for phototherapy
  5. Bactericidal effects of 310 nm ultraviolet light-emitting diode irradiation on oral bacteria
  6. Inactivation of the coronavirus that induces severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS-CoV
  7. Stability of SARS Coronavirus in Human Specimens and Environment and Its Sensitivity to Heating and UV Irradiation
  8. Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases
  9. Weather online – UV index in India
  10.  WHO – Global disease burden from solar ultraviolet radiation

Hoax #23: Spraying bleach on someone who might be infected destroys the novel coronavirus

Summary: Not True 

Response: Spraying bleach (hypochlorite solution) or other chemical disinfectants on people, e.g. in disinfection tunnels, is not recommended. If a person is suffering from Covid-19 infection, spraying the exterior of their body does not destroy the virus inside their bodies. Moreover, bleach solution, especially at concentrations higher than 1% can irritate the eyes, throat and skin.

Evidence: Bleach (sodium or calcium hypochlorite) is a common, inexpensive, generally safe and widely used disinfectant. Bleach can be used to disinfect virus-contaminated external surfaces. However, it is not recommended for use on people or groups of people. Spraying bleach solution does not destroy the novel coronavirus inside the body of an infected patient. Very dilute solutions of bleach (0.05% concentration) can be used to disinfect hands when soap/water are not available. However, using bleach solutions (even as dilute as 0.05%) on the external surface of the human body may cause dermatitis and asthma.

References and further reading

  1. MOHFW advisory
  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommendation
  3. JAMA-Network paper on effects of chronic exposure to disinfectants, cleaning products 
  4. BMJ Occupational and Environmental Medicine paper on effects of chronic exposure to household cleaners
  5. Sodium hypochlorite health effects; Calcium hypochlorite health effects
  6. Guidelines for preparation of “chlorine” solutions from bleach solution or powder
  7. Lancet paper showing that 1:100 bleach solutions (not sprays) deactivate novel coronavirus within 5 minutes
  8. Bleach as an effective disinfectant for surfaces. See publications from WHO, CDC.

Hoax #22: Consuming Kalonji seeds which are rich in hydroxychloroquine will prevent COVID-19

Summary: Not True 

Response: There is no evidence that Kalonji seeds are rich in hydroxychloroquine. They are rich in an unrelated compound called thymoquinone which has not been tested or approved for the treatment of COVID19. 

Evidence: There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine is present in Kalonji seeds. It is rich in an unrelated compound called thymoquinone. There is also no evidence that thymoquinone is converted to hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in the human body. There is no indication that thymoquinone works like chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. They have different mechanisms of action for the functions for which they are used clinically. You can read about the mechanism of action of thymoquinone here and chloroquine & hydroxychloroquine here.

References and further reading:

  1. Dissecting the Potential Roles of Nigella sativa and Its Constituent Thymoquinone on the Prevention and on the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
  1. Dietary supplementation of chloroquine with nigella sativa seed and oil extracts in the treatment of malaria induced in mice with plasmodium berghei
  1. Molecular modelling analysis of the metabolism of thymoquinone
  1. New insights into the antiviral effects of chloroquine

Hoax #21: People from North-East India are spreading the coronavirus

Summary: Not True 

Response: 

People from the North-East are NOT any more likely to be carriers of, or spread coronavirus, than people from any other parts of India. Such unfounded, unsubstantiated and hurtful rumours create social unrest and divide the nation along ethnic and regional lines. ANY person, irrespective of ethnic origin, religion or caste who has been in contact with a COVID-19 patient can get infected. If the infected person does not use a mask or follow quarantine procedures and other precautionary measures, they can spread the infection to others.

Evidence

COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, i.e. it has jumped to humans from animals. Studies indicate that the spillover to humans happened outside the country and has nothing to do with any particular community or ethnic group in India. There is no evidence to suggest that people from specific regions or ethnicity are more likely to spread the novel coronavirus.

During past pandemics, historians have also reported phobias and insecurities pertaining to certain communities. During Black Death, Jewish communities in Europe and during Ebola, Africans in Hong Kong SAR, China faced discrimination and were stigmatized resulting from fears of their association with the spread of the disease. Such reactions are harmful and unfair to those persecuted. 

In this regard we quote the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. “Public health emergencies during outbreak of communicable diseases may cause fear and anxiety leading to prejudices against people and communities, social isolation and stigma. Such behavior may culminate into increased hostility, chaos and unnecessary social disruptions. There is an urgent need to counter such prejudices and to rise as a community that is empowered with health literacy and responds appropriately in the face of this adversity.” Humanity survives when together and falls when divided! 

References and further reading

Journals:

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2012-7
  2. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0960982220303602
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525302/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422154/

Guidelines:

  1. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/factsheet-health-professionals-coronaviruses
  2. Reducing Stigma 
  3. https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/AddressingSocialStigmaAssociatedwithCOVID19.pdf

Media:

  1. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/04/interview-rumours-linking-livestock-to-covid-19-unfounded-says-expert/
  2. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/27/coronavirus-covid19-dont-blame-bat-soup-for-the-virus/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoonosis
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01009-0

Hoax #20: Steam inhalation or nasal rinses can cure novel coronavirus infection

Summary: Not True 

Response:

Inhaling steam and nasal rinsing are home remedies that may sometimes provide relief from common symptoms of respiratory illnesses, such as nasal congestion, runny nose or cough. However, controlled studies show that these remedies do not kill viruses in the respiratory tract. Besides, there are no studies testing the effect of these remedies on preventing infection by the novel coronavirus. Hot water, steam and container may cause burns to the eyes, face or nose, if not handled carefully. Even if you are inhaling steam it is critical to follow physical distancing, handwashing and other precautions recommended for COVID-19.

Evidence:

Steam inhalation has been practiced for a long time to treat viral cold and symptoms; but there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of these treatments to relieve the symptoms. Some studies found that steam inhalation helps in reducing symptoms while others found that symptoms persist. However, symptoms did not get worse in any of these studies. One controlled study found that steam inhalation did not reduce the number of viral particles in the nasal passage, suggesting that steam inhalation only gives symptomatic relief, but does not reduce viral load. 

Nasal rinse/irrigation can give symptomatic relief in case of upper respiratory tract infections such as sinusitis and allergic rhinitis, and is also recommended for those patients. But, there is no study on reduction in viral count with this treatment.


One needs to be careful if using either of these methods. Hot water or steam can cause severe burns or scalds if handled without care. Similarly, while using nasal irrigation, if the water is hot (instead of warm) or has higher salt concentration, it can cause irritation or discomfort in the nose. There is an additional risk of infection from unclean water or the irrigation device. Note that these treatments are not listed on WHO/CDC websites for treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

References and further reading:

  1. Heated, humidified air for the common cold – Cochrane review 2004
  2. Heated, humidified air for the common cold – Cochrane review 2017
  3. Effects of steam inhalation on nasal patency and nasal symptoms in patients with the common cold
  4. Effect of Inhalation of Hot Humidified Air on Experimental Rhinovirus Infection
  5. Severe burns related to steam inhalation therapy
  6. Steam inhalation therapy: severe scalds as an adverse side effect
  7. Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Adult Sinusitis Executive Summary
  8. Nasal saline irrigation for acute upper airway infection symptoms
  9. Nasal Irrigation as an Adjunctive Treatment in Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
  10. Should You Still Rinse Your Sinuses During The COVID-19 Outbreak?
  11. WHO – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
  12. CDC – How to Protect Yourself & Others

Hoax #19: Consuming Datura will prevent coronavirus infection

Summary: Not True

Response: 

Datura stramonium is not known to be effective against viruses. Compounds isolated from Datura are used as medication for motion sickness and low blood pressure caused by slow heart rate. Consuming these compounds, parts of the Datura plant or the plant as a whole without the advice of a doctor can be fatal. The fact that Datura has a spherical prickly fruit and resembles the coronavirus with its spike protein is only a coincidence, and does not indicate that it can kill the novel coronavirus.

Evidence:

Datura is a shrub found widely in Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is also known as thorn apple because of its characteristic prickly shaped fruit. Parts of the plant are  rich in compounds (known as tropane alkaloids) that have medicinal properties, but are also hallucinogenic (can cause people to hear or see things that are not real). Apart from acting as a hallucinogen, consuming  Datura has a lot of adverse effects such as disorientation and a rapid irregular heartbeat which can be fatal. Inappropriate use of Datura has led to deaths in the past as well as recently in Andhra Pradesh. There are no studies that demonstrate antiviral properties of any of the parts of Datura.  

References and further reading:

  1. Distribution of Datura stramonium
  2. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain on a request from the European Commission on Tropane alkaloids (from Datura sp.) as undesirable substances in animal feed. The EFSA Journal, 2008
  3. Tropane Alkaloids: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Biosynthesis and Production by Kohnen-Johannsen et al 2019
  4. Alkaloids, chapter nine by W.A. Kukula-Koch and J. Widelski. Book: Pharmacognosy: Fundamentals, Applications and Strategies by Simone Badal Mccreath, Rupika Delgoda
  5. Acute poisoning due to ingestion of Datura stramonium – a case report by Trancă et al 2017
  6. Fatal poisoning from ingestion of Datura stramonium seeds by Boumba et al 2004
  7. 10 people hospitalised after trying TikTok home-remedy to prevent COVID-19 by Asiaville Desk

Summary: Not True 

Response: All animals, including humans, are hosts to many viruses. In rare cases, a virus may jump from an animal host to humans due to close contact. But once this virus switches to humans, it can only spread from one person to another. Some types of coronavirus do infect bats in India, but they are very different from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

In general, bats do not harm humans. Bats in India cannot spread the novel coronavirus and do not consume human blood. Bats actually have many important ecological functions, even in cities: they pollinate or disperse seeds of over 300 important plants (e.g. banana), and control insect pests. So it is important not to harm them or the trees on which they live. As long as people maintain a safe distance bats do not pose any danger, and should be left alone. 

Evidence: 

Generally, bats in India are not harmful. The only bats that feed on the blood of mammals including humans are found in the Americas. However, bats are extremely important for the ecosystem. Fruit-eating bats act as pollinators and seed dispersers for many species of plants. Insect-eating bats play a major role in controlling pest insects (e.g. Cleveland et al 2006, Riccucci et al 2018). Bats use trees in multiple ways: for resting, feeding, and navigation. Cutting down trees that provide shelter and food to bats can stress the bats. Increased stress can make animals more vulnerable to disease (Cohen et al 2012), so cutting trees is counterproductive. 

A recent study reported coronaviruses infecting two species of bats from India (Yadav et al 2020). Scientists who did this study have clearly stated that these bat coronaviruses do not cause diseases in humans. All animals, including humans, are host to a large number of viruses (Mollentze et al 2020). Spillovers (jumps) from wild animals to humans are very rare, and require close contact (Plowright et al 2017). So, if we maintain a safe distance, bats (and other wild animals) do not pose a threat. 

References and More information

  1. Do fruit bats deserve to be listed as vermin in the Indian wildlife (protection) & amended acts? A critical review
  2. Heaven is where there are Mahua trees – and their bat friends
  3. The World’s Tropical Pollinators
  4. Study on chronic stress and disease risk
  5. News report summarizing detection of ‘Bat coronavirus’ in India | ICMR | Coronavirus Pandemic
  6. Pathways to zoonotic spillover 

Previous Hoaxes

Hoax #1: The novel Coronavirus was developed in a lab

April 3, 2020

Updated answer: 15 May 2020

Summary: Not true.

Response: Many internet articles and social media forwards claimed that the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes CoViD-19 was developed in a research laboratory and that it was either accidentally or purposefully released in the population for economic or other benefits.

However, researchers have shown that this virus is closely related to similar viruses that infect wild animals, and evolved from existing wild virus strains through mutations. It is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.

Based on current evidence, we rate this claim as clearly false


Evidence:

Researchers analyzed the structure of the novel coronavirus, CoV2, to understand how it infects human cells. They showed that this virus uses the same ‘entry system’ as other coronaviruses such as SARS, MERS, and CoV2. All of these infect humans, using a “spike protein” that binds to a protein called ACE2 on our cells; so the novel coronavirus does not use any special means to infect human cells. A study published in May 2020 also found that the spike protein of the novel coronavirus is nearly identical to the protein of a coronavirus that infects pangolins in Malaysia. Thus, other, naturally occurring coronaviruses – including those that infect wild animals – bind to human ACE2 in similar ways.

The genome of the novel coronavirus does not have the telltale signatures that are expected if it had been an engineered bio-weapon. Just like trained detectives can pick up clues to figure out how and when a murder was committed, molecular biologists can pick up fingerprints of the reverse genetic approach that someone would have to use if they made this virus in a lab. The genome of the novel coronavirus also does not match the genome of other coronaviruses that were being studied in labs in Wuhan, so it is unlikely to have been accidentally released from a lab. 

Overall, similarities with other coronaviruses in the wild make it extremely unlikely that COVID-19 is the result of a “manufactured virus in a laboratory by deliberate manipulation of previous viruses”. All the data we have consistently show that the virus evolved naturally in a wild animal, and jumped to infect humans.

References:

The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2

Coronavirus from Malayan Pangolins

Detailed discussion on ISRC on origins of the novel coronavirus

An expository news article

Hoax #2: Eating non-vegetarian food is risky

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True.

Response: Eating well cleaned and cooked non-vegetarian or vegetarian food is not risky. The process of cooking destroys or inactivates viruses. The novel coronavirus (Sars-CoV2), the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted from humans to humans and animals are not involved in the transmission between humans.

Evidence: European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as well as the American FDA, explicitly stated that COVID-19 is NOT a food-borne illness.

References: Media reports debunk this can be found in indiatoday, ToI, thelogicalindian, and theHindu.

Hoax #3: Cow urine or cow dung can protect you from the novel Coronavirus 

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True.

Response: Not only is there NO EVIDENCE that cow urine or cow dung kill the coronavirus or cure COVID-19, consuming these waste products can lead to new problems! In fact, bovine coronavirus could be shed in cow excreta and can be a potential source of a new human coronavirus if it jumps from cows to humans. Cow dung could lead to increased prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, another growing public health concern.

Evidence: See this published report in PNAS journal.

References:  Media reports that debunk this hoax have featured in bbc, edex, thelogicalindian, factchecker, thewire, and nypost.

Hoax #4: Indians have better immunity against the novel Coronavirus

Updated 29 May, 2020

Summary: Most likely False (not enough evidence)

Response: Currently there are no data showing that Indians have better innate or adaptive immunity against the novel coronavirus.

Evidence:

Broadly speaking, many reasons may make people from a particular population or region less susceptible to an infectious disease. First, the infectious agent (e.g. a virus or a bacterium) may be less prevalent in the region. This difference in prevalence could arise from many causes e.g. if it requires a rare intermediate host, or if the climatic conditions reduce its survival outside the human body. Second, people in the region may have a social structure that may reduce viral spread (e.g. most interactions are in small groups, or population density is low). Third, people may be genetically predisposed to better fight the pathogen. For example, if the population has evolved for thousands of generations in the presence of a virus, natural selection may lead to better immunity against that virus. Finally, if the population has evolved to fight a closely related pathogen, people may have cross-reactive antibodies that can recognize both the old and the new virus, providing some immunity against the new virus. 

The general suggestion that Indians have better immunity thus needs to be examined from each of these angles. Overall, India has a very high incidence of infectious diseases that has remained largely unchanged for many years (Banerjee and Dwiwedi, 2016), driven by complex social, cultural and economic factors. Nevertheless, the high prevalence of infectious disease and the large number of COVID-19 cases reported thus far (e.g. covidindia.org, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/) suggests that climatic conditions, population density, social interactions, genetic predisposition, and diet are unlikely to work in our favour in terms of protection from COVID-19. Early reports from other countries suggest that people of Indian ethnicity may have higher death rates due to COVID-19, although the causes are as yet undetermined. Such differences can arise from genetic effects, social and cultural or economic factors).   

Since the novel coronavirus only recently acquired the ability to infect humans (Anderson et al, 2020), people in India could not have evolved specific immunity against the virus. However, some people may potentially derive some protection against COVID-19 due to prior exposure to related coronaviruses (HCoV) that also cause human respiratory infections. A recently published study and one that is currently under scrutiny, both show that some antibodies produced against HCoV can bind to the novel coronavirus. However, these results need to be verified in a larger set of people. In India, the relative prevalence of HCoV infection and specific association with COVID-19 is not known. Hence, it is important that we continue to practice all precautionary measures to prevent infection by the novel coronavirus.

References:

Infectious disease burden in India from 2004-2014

The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2

Evidence mounts on the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities

Targets of T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in humans with COVID-19 disease and unexposed individuals

Pre-existing and de novo humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in humans

Hoax #5: The variant of the novel Coronavirus spreading in India is less dangerous

Updated 29 May, 2020

Summary: Not enough evidence

Response: All organisms naturally accumulate mutations. Majority of these mutations typically have no effect on the organism. In viruses, although mutations occur at a much faster rate than other species, there are still very few mutations that may change its ability to infect a host and spread. For the novel coronavirus, the effects of mutations are still unknown.

Evidence: Many scientists have analysed the genetic material from viruses isolated from COVID-19 patients from various parts of the world, to identify new mutations in the virus. For example, recent studies suggested that a particular mutation in the novel coronavirus has become more prevalent worldwide, including in India (Biswas and Majumder 2020). This mutation is computationally predicted to affect the spread of the virus (Korber et al, preprint). Although such predictions are useful, they are not sufficient to know whether specific mutations will change a virus’ transmission or its effect on the human body. This requires experimental tests, which have not yet been conducted. High prevalence of a mutation also does not automatically mean that it is a successful mutation. For example, sometimes a mutation may spread locally by chance, even if it does not increase the virus’ ability to infect hosts. Therefore, further analysis is necessary to conclude that a specific mutation is helping (or preventing) the spread of the virus.

It is also important to note that a variant of a virus is considered a new strain only if it changes the biological properties of the virus (e.g. its ability to survive outside the host, to bind to host cells, to be recognized by the immune system, or to resist antiviral drugs). As mentioned above, none of the genetic mutations found in SARS-CoV2 has been experimentally shown to affect the virus’ biological properties. Therefore, based on current data, we cannot assume that the variants of the novel coronavirus in India are different strains that are either less or more dangerous.

References: 

http://www.ijmr.org.in/preprintarticle.asp?id=284484;type=0

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.29.069054v1

Viral Genetics – Medical Microbiology

There is one, and only one strain of SARS-CoV-2

Nextstrain.org

Beware Overblown Claims of Coronavirus Strains

Hoax #6: The novel Coronavirus can spread through mosquito bites

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True

Response: There is no evidence to suggest mosquitoes transmit the novel coronavirus. It is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Mosquito bites do not spread the virus.

Referencehttps://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

Hoax #7: The novel Coronavirus can be transmitted to you through bites of animals such as cats and dogs

April 14, 2020

Summary: Not enough evidence. 

Response: Not enough evidence. The novel coronavirus most likely jumped from wild bats or pangolins to humans. However, currently there is no evidence that domesticated animals can transmit the novel coronavirus to humans. 

A recent study (Shi et al 2020) showed that the novel coronavirus can successfully infect cats and ferrets, and both animals produce an immune response against the virus. However, the virus is not able to successfully multiply in dogs. The novel coronavirus is also unable to infect pigs, chickens, and ducks. Further experiments are necessary to know whether pets can transmit the novel coronavirus to humans, and vice versa.

As a precaution, if you have COVID-19 symptoms avoid close contact with animals, including pets. Wash your hands after handling any animals, their food, waste, or supplies. Practice good pet hygiene and clean up after your pets properly.

References: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/04/07/science.abb7015

Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at Bronx Zoo, first known case in the world

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/should-pets-be-tested-coronavirus

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00984-8

 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html

https://jvi.asm.org/content/jvi/early/2020/01/23/JVI.00127-20.full.pdf

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/quarantine-cat-disinfect-dog-latest-advice-about-coronavirus-and-your-pets

Hoax #8: The novel Coronavirus can spread through the use of air conditioning

Updated 29 May, 2020

Summary: Research ongoing (cannot be ruled either way)

Response: A recent study estimated that within a minute of loud speech, about 1000 droplets containing viral particles could be produced, which remain airborne for at least 8 mins (Stadnytskyi et al., 2020). This suggests that infection may spread despite physical distancing, if people share the same air for prolonged periods in confined places with poor ventilation (i.e. without access to fresh air). This may pose a risk of infection in centrally air-conditioned rooms, because ACs circulate air back into the same space repeatedly, thereby also circulating any contaminants in the air. Many recent reports in centralized air-conditioned environments indirectly point towards this mode of transmission. For example, a study in a restaurant in China shows transmission from a single pre-symptomatic patient to not just people on the same table but also those on the neighboring tables (Lu et al., 2020). Even though samples from the AC filter were negative for the virus, the airflow is thought to have facilitated transmission across tables. Another study in a call centre in South Korea shows clustered infections on one floor of the centrally air conditioned office (Park et al , 2020). Although there is no experimental evidence on the movement of droplets containing virus through air filtration systems and AC ducts, these and other studies point to the possibility of circulating the virus in confined air-conditioned spaces with poor natural ventilation (Morawska and Cao, 2020)

As the lockdown is lifted, people are more likely to visit crowded public places with central AC and poor ventilation; e.g. supermarkets, malls, offices, trains, and restaurants. Until proven otherwise, it may be safer to avoid such places (The risks: Know them and avoid them). For domestic use, ACs are unlikely to increase the chance of infection because people in a household share the living space and come in close contact anyway. Regardless, natural and frequent ventilation is recommended. If a family member falls sick, when possible they should be isolated in a separate room that does not share an AC with other rooms in the house. For sick persons, natural ventilation (i.e. open windows) is preferable to an AC (Indian government guidelines).

References:

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/7/20-0764_article

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/8/20-1274_article

https://www.fallonsolutions.com.au/Handy_Hints/air-conditioning-and-the-coronavirus-everything-you-need-to-know

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8086457/Coronavirus-spread-air-conditioning-contagious-previously-thought.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151430/#b0075

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/05/12/2006874117

Hoax #9 : Fasting can help you reduce the chances of getting the novel Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True

Response: The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system and is mainly known to spread through respiratory droplets of infected persons when they cough or sneeze. The coronavirus is equally capable of infecting a person who is fasting as well as someone who is not. On the other hand, fasting may cause hyperacidity, low blood sugar, fatigue, and weakened immunity, all of which may increase a person’s risk of getting infected. Thus, fasting, by no means, is a preventive measure for coronavirus.

Evidence: There are some articles that mention that fasting “resets” the immune system. However, it is known for long that fasting leads to stress, low blood sugar levels, headache, dizziness, all of which are bad for the immune system. Additionally,  everyone defines “fasting” differently. There is a strong tendency to overeat after a certain period of fasting. This may lead to problems such as indigestion, nausea, weight gain, which are bad, especially when we are in lockdown and our movement is restricted.

There are plenty of studies that have shown the link between nutrition and immunity. However, there is no study that shows that fasting reduces the chances of getting infected. Thus, for the prevention of the coronavirus infection, it is important to stay healthy by following a balanced diet, physical isolation, and personal hygiene. 

Reference: Nutrition and the immune system: an introduction https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/66/2/460S/4655769

Hoax #10: Clapping hands can kill the novel Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True 

Response: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that audible sound waves (vibrations that can be heard by the human ear) can destroy a virus or bacteria. Clapping creates audible frequencies (1-10kHz) that are too low to cause any damage. In addition, sound energy typically dissipates as it travels, and becomes weaker at larger distances. So even clapping in unison, will not kill viruses and cleanse the air at large distances, as claimed by some hoaxes.

Evidence: It is known that shock waves are generated in nearly all hand-claps, with the addition of a Helmholtz-type resonance in the case of domed impacts with frequencies ranging from 1-10 Khz1. However, the only soundwaves known to damage bacteria and viruses are Ultrasonic waves which are above 20 KHz2. These high energy waves can disrupt biological material only when in direct contact (small distances in mm inside a liquid medium), where energy loss is minimal. No amount of resonance will achieve these additive frequencies in the surrounding air by clapping hands, even in unison. Given the evidence at hand, one can say without a doubt that this claim is false.

References:http://www.acoustics.asn.au/journal/2013/2013_41_2_Fletcher_paper.pdf

https://sciencing.com/sonication-work-5171302.html

Hoax #11: Houseflies can spread the novel Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True 

Response: No cases of transmission via the fecal-oral route have yet been reported for SARS-CoV2. 

It is claimed that the virus is found in the stools of some COVID-19 patients, even a few days after they have recovered. A fly could sit on the stool if it was a case of open defecation, and the virus could be transported by a fly to food kept uncovered. Or the fly carrying the virus could bite or sit on the skin and transmit it. Novel coronavirus cannot infect through clear skin. It infects a certain class of cells in the respiratory system. 

Evidence: Contrary to a claim made by a Bollywood actor, existing evidence actually does not support transmission via the fecal-oral route. This means infection via this route is unlikely in quarantine facilities, in hospitals, or while under self-isolation.

References:https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(20)30083-2/fulltext

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

https://www.mosquito.org/news/492656/Can-Mosquitoes-Transmit-the-Coronavirus.htm

Hoax #12: Homeopathic and ayurvedic treatments can protect you from the novel Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Summary: No evidence.

Response: No clinical trials have been done till date. There just isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest homeopathy or Ayurveda are protective or curative for COVID-19. People have explored natural products for their antiviral properties, but that is not sufficient to claim that they are “Ayurvedic remedies”. Homeopathy can have a placebo effect or ayurvedic treatments may alleviate some symptoms, but they offer no cure.

Evidence: That homeopathy offers no cure, see here. For analysis of evidence from Ayurveda, see here.

References: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

Reports showing homeopathy is not advised as cure have featured in Print.in,  the-scientist, altnews; articles refuting Ayurveda have appeared in factchecker, altnews.

Hoax #13: The spread of the novel Coronavirus can be predicted using astrology

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True

Response: Several astrologers and spiritual masters have claimed that the calendar followed by the spread of the coronavirus follows a certain pattern that can be predicted by Astrology. Many of these claims connect this particular virus with the annular solar eclipse of 26 December 2019, or with equinox day, or some particular nakshatra or Rahu. However, there is no scientific basis to this belief from Astrology. Moreover, there is no evidence of any influence of eclipses and calendrical objects like Nakshatra and Rahu on human life. There is no connection, whatsoever, between these beliefs and the spread of epidemics. We strongly advise everyone not to believe in Astrology.

Evidence: Evidence of the fact that astrology does not generate any useful predictions can be categorized into two parts. 

Firstly, a number of statistical studies conducted around the world have conclusively shown that predictions by astrologers turn out to be true only as frequently as a random chance (or in other words a coin toss). Many people tend to think that some astrologers they know have the ability to make a higher proportion of successful predictions. However,  it has been shown that this mistaken belief stems from a well-understood bias of the human mind, called confirmation bias.
Simple scientific concepts and observations show that eclipses are just a play of shadows involving the Sun, the Moon and the Earth and occur very frequently. Zodiacal positions of the Sun and planets are mainly an effect of the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. The Rahu is not a physical object, just an imaginary point in space where the orbit of the Moon intersects the plane of revolution of the Earth. Scientific estimates show that the Sun, Moon and other planets are simply too far away to exert any meaningful gravitational force on the human body or tiny viruses that cause epidemics. Neither is there any evidence which suggests that the position of the Moon or planets influence our health or the spread of disease.

We note that astrology is not even an ancient Indian belief system as mistakenly thought. We don’t see any astrological discussions in Indian texts written before Alexander’s invasion of India. It is widely believed that some Indians adopted astrology from the Greeks who came with Alexander’s army.

References: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4410736

https://www.jstor.org/stable/24104554

Hoax #14: The miracle cure messages circulating in social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook can cure you of the novel Coronavirus.

April 3, 2020

Summary: No!

Response: Many social media messages are being forwarded suggesting miracle cures based on supplements, medicines or other rites and ceremonies. Subjecting yourself to any of these untested claims can be very dangerous. If you believe you are afflicted, quarantine yourself, consult a qualified doctor and seek medical attention immediately in an authorized hospital or testing centre.

Reference: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

Hoax #15: Practicing yoga can protect you from the novel Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True.

Short Response: There is no evidence to support the claims on protective and curative claims about yoga against coronavirus. The practice of yoga is believed to reduce stress, lead to better overall fitness and a sense of well-being. However, none of these factors guarantee immunity against COVID19 specifically. 

 It is important to note that a healthy person, in general, has a higher chance of recovery from any disease. 

Reference: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-benefits-beyond-the-mat

Hoax #16: Can home remedies protect from the novel Coronavirus?

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True. 

Response: Amongst others, warm concoctions with spices, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and even tea are used as home remedies for respiratory illnesses. These often provide temporary relief from the symptoms (eg. irritable throat, cough, blocked nose by vasodilation/stimulation, etc). Although some studies have shown positive effects on cells in a test tube, clinical evidence to support their utility remains inconclusive1. Most importantly, there is no evidence to say that they target or kill the COVID-19 virus specifically. Therefore, while home remedies can supplement mild symptoms 2-3; those having fever, dry cough and shortness of breath must get immediate medical attention as further delay will only advance the disease to fatal conditions. 

Evidence: While some compounds (ex. catechins in tea, etc) show effects on immune cells and viruses in vitro (outside the body in test-tubes), beneficial effects are not seen in human clinical trials1. Although some compounds like Vitamin C (lemon or citrus juices) show mild efficacy, most cannot be strongly recommended as drugs. Studies so far do not show evidence of home-remedies on reducing viruses.

COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, that can spread very effectively. No studies have shown any home remedy that can specifically prevent coronavirus infections or kill the virus. In fact, delays in getting proper treatment can actually compound the lethal effects of this virus. 

Based on the current evidence, we rate this claim as most likely false.

References: 

  1. Effect of Tea Catechins on Influenza Infection and the Common Cold with a Focus on Epidemiological/Clinical Studies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6100025/
  2. Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence https://www.cmaj.ca/content/186/3/190.short#boxed-text-1
  3. Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/1837634/

Hoax #17: Can light from candles and diyas kill the Covid-19 virus & stop the epidemic?

April 3, 2020

Summary: Not True

Response: Claims that many candles lit at the same time will kill the coronavirus or stop the epidemic are completely false.  

The burning of candles converts chemical energy to heat and light energy. However, the amount of heat energy produced would not result in a significant difference in the temperature of our environment. The light emitted by burning a candle is in the visible range and candle also emits low energy light. Only ultraviolet light can inactivate RNA- and DNA-containing viruses.  

Moreover, the temperature increase in the air around candle flames would be short-lived; the temperature would return to the ambient temperature soon after the flames go out. There is no consensus yet on the impact of weather on the coronavirus. Research for testing the stability of SARS-CoV-2 at varying temperatures is just beginning.

Given the current scientific knowledge  one can say without a doubt that this claim is false.

The lighting of candles, lamps and diyas is a symbolic gesture to spread awareness and express solidarity with the #IndiaFightsCorona effort.

References: Recently funded research proposal on testing how changing temperature may affect coronavirus

Predictions on viral inactivation under UV-light, published in Journal of Virology 

Links to other COVID-19 fact-check sites

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

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