Debunking Common Coronavirus Myths

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Debunking Common Coronavirus Myths

By now we’re all wishing and hoping that the coronavirus pandemic will end, especially as summer has “unofficially”started and we’re longing to get back to normal as much as possible. As we wait for a vaccine, it’s not too surprising that claims of ways to prevent or treat COVID-19 (the illness caused by the novel coronavirus) have sprung up all over the internet and social media. Some of these claims can seem pretty convincing and even harmless; you might be thinking, “What the heck? I’ll give it a try. It can’t hurt, right?” Maybe not, but as you’ll read in a moment, some purported coronavirus “remedies” can be downright harmful, if not fatal. Let’s de-bunk some of the current myths out there.

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Myth #1: Eating hot peppers will prevent or cure COVID-19.

A spiritual activist names Omotade-Sparks Amos Sewanu has people in Nigeria believing that COVID-19 is due to a “pepper deficiency syndrome” and including hot pepper in the diet will kill the virus, according to a memo from Sewanu in February. He highly recommends eating stews or soups that contain pepper, specifically cayenne pepper; however, he advises against consuming dry pepper or going overboard with pepper.

Reality check

Wouldn’t it be great to eat a bowl of spicy soup doused with cayenne pepper and be rid of coronavirus? Alas, while Sewanu means well, there is zero evidence that hot pepper-laced foods will kill the virus. Now, if you have blocked sinuses or high blood pressure, there could be some benefit to slurping a spicy soup. Just don’t count on it to protect you from or treat coronavirus.

Myth #2: Spraying, swallowing or injecting bleach or any disinfectant will kill the coronavirus.

Bleach, rubbing alcohol and products such as Lysol, when sprayed on a surface, like countertops, doorknobs, toilets, light switches and faucets, are recommended by the CDC for cleaning and disinfecting. As they can “kill” viruses and other germs, it might stand to reason that perhaps ingesting, injecting or rubbing one of these chemicals could kill the coronavirus if you have it.

Reality check

Three words: Don’t do this. Introducing bleach or any other disinfectant on or into your body can cause serious harm and may be fatal. Even if you don’t swallow them, bleach and other cleaners can damage your eyes, skin and your lungs. Keep these disinfectants away from your body and use them only on surfaces. Stick with using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, as they are formulated to be safe for the skin.

Myth #3: Drinking colloidal silver will kill coronavirus.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Colloidal silver consists of tiny silver particles in a liquid.” Colloidal silver is frequently promoted on the Internet as a dietary supplement, but as with many supplements, there is little evidence to support its claims. Silver is not an essential mineral and it has no known functions or benefits in the body. Televangelist Jim Bakker has frequently touted his “Silver Solution” as a cure for many ailments, and recently has been promoting it on his show as a way to treat coronavirus. Alas, Bakker is being sued for falsely claiming that Silver Solution will cure, treat or kill coronavirus.

Reality check

Colloidal silver can cause a number of serious side effects, including interfering with the absorption of certain drugs like antibiotics and thyroid medication, and causing argyria (a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin). Excessive doses can cause kidney damage and neurological problems.

Myth #4: CBD products can treat coronavirus.

CBD (cannabidiol) is an active ingredient in the Cannabis sativa, or cannabis plant. The cannabis plant contains about 540 chemical substances, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). There are prescriptions medications that contain these substances (called cannabinoids) to treat epilepsy, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. However, the FDA has determined that products containing THC or CBD can’t legally be sold as dietary supplements, although that hasn’t stopped products containing these substances from hitting the market. CBD is now found in oil, gels, creams and pills, and claims abound about this substance treating conditions and disease such as Alzheimer’s, chronic pain and allergies. Not surprisingly, some CBD manufacturers are making claims that this substance can protect against coronavirus.

Reality check

Here’s another example of a “too good to be true” story. CBD products have not been tested or evaluated by the FDA, and there’s no evidence that CBD is helpful in promoting immunity or treating COVID-19. In addition, because CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA, there is no guarantee that CBD products are free of contaminants, such as lead, arsenic or mold, or that a CBD product doesn’t cause harm such as liver damage or interaction with other drugs.

Myth #5: Warm weather and sunlight prevent COVID-19.

With hot, sunny days ahead, many people hope that heat will do away with the coronavirus. And there is evidence that viruses don’t fare so well in the heat. Take the influenza virus or the virus that causes the common cold: they thrive in dry, cold weather, and cases of the flu or a cold drop when the weather turns warm. How about sunshine? According to one Facebook posting, people should soak up some rays to ward off coronavirus.

Reality check

Conditions in a laboratory can be very different than the great outdoors. At this time, scientists simply don’t know enough about how hot weather and sunshine will impact the spread of coronavirus. There are also other factors that can impact virus transmission, including human behaviors (like social distancing) and the state of a person’s immune system. However, this particular coronavirus is a new (novel) virus, so it’s unclear as to how it will behave. Plus, while some viral illnesses slow down during the summer, in countries who currently have warm temperatures (take Iran, for example), COVID-19 has been spreading very quickly. When it comes to sunlight, the ultraviolet (UV) light is what’s thought to decrease or halt the viability of coronavirus on surfaces. But whether exposing someone to UV light will do the same remains to be seen. Plus, there’s the risk of skin cancer to contend with. For now, don’t count on heat or sunshine to prevent or dispel COVID-19. (By the way, drinking hot liquids or taking a hot bath won’t kill the virus, either).

Myth #6: Eating garlic prevents COVID-19.

If only! Garlic has a long history of being used as a medicine to treat respiratory and digestive illnesses, along with arthritis, toothaches, constipation, parasitic infections and infectious diseases. Indeed, garlic has been shown to be effective against a number of bacteria, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Helicobacter (which can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers).

Reality check

Go ahead and enjoy garlic, if not to ward off vampires, then for the delicious flavor. Just don’t expect it to ward off or destroy coronavirus. The evidence showing that garlic has anti-viral properties just isn’t as compelling. Eating several or more cloves of garlic daily can lead to an upset stomach, heartburn, bloating and diarrhea. If you take a blood-thinner medicine, such as Coumadin (generic name warfarin), there’s a risk of bleeding from eating too much garlic or taking large amounts of garlic supplements.

What DOES work?

Until we learn more about the virus that causes COVID-19 and until we get a vaccine, it’s wise to shy away from internet and social media claims. What CAN you do? You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating:

· The best way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed. And it’s believed that coronavirus is spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets that are produced when a person talks, coughs or sneezes. Keeping at least six feet apart from others is highly recommended, and avoid going to crowded places.

· Wash your hands often with soap and water; if no soap is available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Also, refrain from touching your face.

· Wear a face covering when you’re out in public.

· Cover your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow if you have to cough or sneeze.

· Clean and disinfect surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, phones and light switches at least daily.

· Take care of yourself. That means eating healthfully and fitting in plenty of vegetables and fruit, staying active, getting enough sleep and keeping tabs on your blood sugars (high blood sugars can weaken your immune system, increasing the risk of infection from coronavirus and other microbes).

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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