Preventing Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction

Coronavirus has dominated the news and social media for the last several weeks. With unprecedented anxiety around the virus, information from a wide variety of sources has been making rounds. Though some of this data is based in scientific evidence, much of it is conjecture, and some is demonstrably false.

We still have much to learn about the virus and the viability of treatment options. But this does not mean that we can blindly accept the guidance or opinions of whatever we hear through texts, emails, social media, the news or in conversation. Belief in these unfounded claims may in fact jeopardize our health and that of our friends, family, and community.

At this stage, the medical consensus around preventing coronavirus is quite straightforward and incredibly logical. The most important thing you can do for your health is to avoid the virus. There are two major ways to accomplish this end.

First, limit your exposure to other people. We now know that asymptomatic people may be spreading the virus, and that it’s possible to have the virus but show no symptoms for over 14 days. So, it doesn’t matter if they are neighbors, friends, relatives, or strangers; assume anyone and everyone could already be contagious. It may not be possible to completely isolate yourself, but it’s clearly time to cancel all non-essential social events or interpersonal meetings. This describes “social distancing,” and it’s absolutely vital we put it into action.

Next, we must try not to infect ourselves with the virus. The virus appears to gain entry to the body through the eyes, mouth and nose. We are unfortunately prone to touching these parts of our face, increasing the odds that we physically put the virus into our own bodies. This is why we need to keep our hands off our faces, and keep our hands as clean as possible. To this end, we should limit exposure to surfaces that might carry the virus. Recent data suggest that the virus can survive on plastic and metal surfaces for up to 3 days. Consistent and high-quality hand washing is key, especially when contacting anything other people may have touched.

Basically, avoiding other people and avoiding infecting ourselves with the virus are our most important defenses against the virus. Outside of these critical interventions, a variety of techniques have been described to lower rates of infection or to fight the virus. These include everything from drinking only warm water to taking specific supplements. Some of these are backed by evidence, but most are not. Some of these ideas are promoted to help others, but many are profiteering. There are no concrete recommendations on the specifics of these practices, but in general, doing what we can to maintain our health (getting adequate sleep, eating healthy food, engaging in moderate exercise) are likely more helpful than reliance on a supplement or other technique to boost the immune system.

Our planet faces a major challenge, and from this existential threat comes a global fear. This fear changes our thinking and our actions. We search for some way to neutralize the uncertainty of the unknown, to help us make sense of the present. When we pursue answers, we often find them. However, in this case, many answers are falsely reassuring, unnecessarily anxiety provoking, or even a threat to our health. To this end, even if we feel it necessary to sample data from a variety of sources, when it comes to disseminating and acting on information, we should do all we can to stick to reliable sources, including the WHO, CDC and Johns Hopkins websites.

Dr. Austin Perlmutter, co-author of BRAIN WASH, is a board-certified internal medicine physician.

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