The novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, is understandably causing a lot of anxiety right now. But misinformation about it is also dangerous. One particularly insidious example — a coronavirus “self-check test” that involves holding your breath for 10 seconds to gauge whether you have COVID-19 — began making the rounds on social media and email last week, CNN reports. Per Deadline, John Oliver took Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera to task on Sunday for recommending the breath-holding test. Robert Legare Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, analyzed and disproved the wildly inaccurate post for CNN.
The post, composed on what looks like the iPhone notes app, was attributed to a Stanford Hospital board member, but Stanford Health Care spokesperson Lisa Kim told CNN that it has no affiliation with Stanford Medicine. Among the post’s plethora of false claims: Not drinking enough water allows the virus to make its way into your windpipe and lungs, and drinking water every 15 minutes causes it to flow into stomach, to be killed by the acid there. Atmar told CNN there’s no evidence that simply staying hydrated is effective in other respiratory viruses. The post also implies that gargling salt and warm water can kill the virus, but Atmar said this wouldn’t work, either, given what we know about other respiratory viruses.
In arguably the most popular claim in the post, the author urges readers to “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, it proves there is no fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection." This, too, is flat-out false, Atmar told CNN. Sure, an acute viral infection can irritate the airways, making it hard to inhale deeply or avoid coughing, but failing to pass the post’s breath-holding test does not mean you have fibrosis or COVID-19.
And while the post reassures readers that “a runny nose and sputum” indicates a common cold, whereas a dry cough without a runny nose points to coronavirus pneumonia, Atmar told CNN that a runny nose can also occur with conditions other than the common cold, like allergies or the flu. Plus, coronavirus pneumonia patients could have “wet” coughs that produce sputum.
Atmar also countered the assertion that the virus starts by triggering a sore throat before eventually causing pneumonia. The chronology of symptoms differs for every patient, though, and may not even include a sore throat, Atmar told CNN. The post also says COVID-19 causes nasal congestion that makes it “feel like you’re drowning.” But other respiratory viruses aren’t known to cause this symptom, and COVID-19 patients haven’t had nasal infection, Atmar said.
Lastly, the posts says that by the time a COVID-19 patients winds up in the hospital, half of the long has undergone fibrosis, or scarring, which may lead to respiratory failure, per CNN. Yet according to Atmar, 80% of patients have mild symptoms, and only a minority develop fibrosis.
Besides needlessly freaking people out, posts like these can spread potentially life-threatening misinformation. If you’re worried and want to do your part to slow the tide of this pandemic, turn to reputable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for suggested precautions that will actually keep you and others safe.