11 coronavirus health myths, fact checked

Despite what you might see online, eating garlic and drinking bleach will not protect you from getting infected.

Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech | Health | Lifestyle
Sarah Mitroff
8 min read

Social media is rife with false claims about how to protect yourself from the coronavirus.

filadendron/Getty Images

As we enter month four of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, there's still a lot of misinformation circling about the virus and COVID-19, the disease it can cause. While we still don't have a vaccine and are nowhere near herd immunity, there are a few things experts agree on. Practicing social distancing, wearing a mask around other people and frequently washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds are good tactics to help protect yourself and others from contracting the virus.

But according to posts all over social media, there are many more ways to protect yourself. Well before the coronavirus was named a pandemic by the World Health Organization, people started sharing all sorts of questionable advice on how to protect yourself from getting infected, ranging from misguided (like making your own hand sanitizer) to outright dangerous (like injecting bleach into your body). It's reached the point where Facebook has moved to ban any ads promoting fake coronavirus cures.

In an effort to get the facts straight, we're going to bust these common coronavirus myths that have taken over our feeds.

Myth 1: Wearing a medical mask can cause CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency

Rumors have circulated online that wearing a face covering can cause you to breathe in too much carbon dioxide or limit your ability to get enough oxygen.

Truth: Medical face masks have been in use since at least the 1890s, and disposable masks since the 1930s. In that time, face masks have not been shown to restrict the amount of oxygen your body gets or increase the amount of carbon dioxide you breathe in. 

N95 medical respirators can allow carbon dioxide to accumulate inside of the mask over the course of several hours of continued use, but this is typically only an issue for people with pre-existing respiratory issues. With medical and cloth masks that many of us are wearing, carbon dioxide can easily escape the mask, according to the BBC.

Oh, and in case you want to circumvent any face mask orders where you live, those "face mask exempt cards" that are being shared on social media won't help you. The US Department of Justice confirmed that they are bogus.

Myth 2: 5G caused COVID-19

The next generation of wireless service, 5G, has sparked controversy around the world. People have expressed worry that the radio signals that 5G uses could cause cancer and other health concerns. So it's not too surprising that people are now blaming the coronavirus pandemic on 5G.

Truth: 5G is not responsible for causing the coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been around for decades, long before the advent of the wireless networks we have today. Neither is there any documented link between cellphones, including 5G phones, and cancer -- they don't produce the kind of energy that directly damages cells.

Myth 3: The coronavirus was created by humans and deliberately released into the world

One conspiracy theory about the coronavirus is that it was engineered in a lab and deliberately released to kill people, possibly for political reasons.

Truth: Scientists say there is no legitimate proof of this theory. They acknowledge that SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of this virus) is very similar to SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the SARS outbreak from 2002 to 2003. 

But this novel coronavirus more closely matches viruses that infect bats and pangolins, which haven't been shown to harm humans in the past. If someone was intentionally creating a virus to threaten the global population, some speculate, they would have chosen something with more evidence to cause widespread medical harm.

Some researchers even speculate that SARS-CoV-2 infected humans many years ago and slowly mutated to eventually be able to harm us.

Coronavirus reopenings: How it looks as lockdowns ease around the world

See all photos

Myth 4: You should not go to the ER for an emergency medical issue because you might contract the coronavirus

The fear behind this is valid, as people hear about hospital beds filling up and worry that if they go into a hospital, they will absolutely become infected.

Truth: If you have an emergency medical issue, going to the ER is safer than not going, according to AARP. Heart attacks, strokes and other serious conditions can cause death without medical intervention. Hospitals have plans in place to isolate coronavirus patients from others to prevent the spread of the virus. 

If you live in a large metropolitan area, some ERs might be dedicated to serving only non-coronavirus patients, so call around before you go if time allows for it. If you or someone in your home is having a medical emergency, you should still call 911.

Myth 5: Using a face mask will completely protect you from getting the coronavirus

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Wearing a facial covering in public is now mandatory in many states, as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Masks have been a hotly debated topic, and there is a lot of confusion about what they actually do.

Truth: From what we know right now (in June 2020), face masks and facial coverings are primarily to prevent the aerosol spray created by your coughing or sneezing from getting into someone else's nose and mouth. The current wisdom is to wear a face mask to protect others around you from getting the virus.

Cloth masks are not woven tightly enough to actually block the virus from getting through. The only masks that can truly block the coronavirus are N95 respirator masks, but only medical professionals should be using them.

Myth 6: If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you don't have a coronavirus infection

Enlarge Image

The idea behind this myth is that if someone is infected with coronavirus, by the time someone is having trouble breathing, 50% of their lungs will have pulmonary fibrosis -- a lung disease that causes irreversible scarring and hardening of the lung tissue.

There's a post that's been floating around the internet that states that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds -- without feeling like you need to gasp for air or a tightness in your chest -- then you don't have pulmonary fibrosis and you're likely not infected with the coronavirus.

This false myth has been shared all over social media, including by actress Debra Messing, who posted it on a now-deleted Instagram story. There are even reports that the advice came from Stanford University, but that's completely false according to the med school.

Truth: While it's possible for the coronavirus to cause fibrosis, holding your breath is not a suitable at-home "test" to determine if you have lung damage. To get a proper diagnosis, you'd need a variety of tests performed by your doctor. And, if you're having difficulty breathing, from coronavirus or anything else, you should call your healthcare provider.

Myth 7: Drinking water will flush the virus from your mouth

Enlarge Image

The post shown in Myth 6 states that you should drink water every 15 minutes because even if the coronavirus gets into your mouth, water and other liquids can flush it away, into your stomach, where it cannot survive because of your stomach acid. It goes on to say that if you don't drink water often enough, the coronavirus will get into your airways and then into your lungs.

Another post (above) making the rounds on social media claims that you can "eliminate" the virus from your throat by gargling with warm water and salt or vinegar (the post doesn't state what kind of vinegar).

Truth: It's always smart to stay well hydrated, whether you're sick or not. But, according to the WHO, there's no evidence that drinking water can protect you from getting the coronavirus. Neither will gargling with salt water or vinegar. And in the same vein, flushing your nose with saline spray won't protect you either.

Read more: 6 essential cold and flu products you need whether you're sick or not 

Myth 8: Avoid ibuprofen if you're infected with the coronavirus

This myth came from a reputable source -- Olivier Véran, the health minister of France. He tweeted on March 14 that taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (aka NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, "could be a factor in worsening the infection" (quote translated from French). If you have a fever, he says, take paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen or Tylenol in the US). Some reports are saying that taking ibuprofen and other NSAIDs could make the symptoms of COVID-19 worse.

Truth: This one is not black and white, because there are conflicting reports. The FDA and the European Medicines Agency both say that there isn't enough scientific evidence that shows taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs could worsen a coronavirus infection. The FDA says it is now looking into the claim to make a further recommendation. Other experts have weighed in, saying there's no data that suggests ibuprofen makes the infection worse.

Watch this: How to follow the pandemic with online tools

However, several experts backed up Véran's claims in a report published in the British Medical Journal, saying that in general, ibuprofen should not be used to treat a fever and that "prolonged illness or the complications of respiratory infections may be more common when NSAIDs are used."

On March 18, the WHO tweeted that it does not recommend for people with COVID-19 to avoid ibuprofen, and had that information posted on its page about coronavirus myths. However, that information has since been removed as of March 25. The UK's National Health Service currently recommends taking paracetamol to ease coronavirus symptoms, and does not mention taking any NSAIDs.

For now, contact your doctor or medical provider if you think you have a coronavirus infection and get their recommendation on what kinds of medications to take to manage symptoms.

Myth 9: Warm weather will get rid of the coronavirus


Following a similar logic to the flu virus, many believe that as the weather gets warmer, the coronavirus will die out. The myth has been perpetuated by President Donald Trump, who told his supporters in March that the coronavirus will go away in April as the weather gets warmer. 

Truth: According to the WHO, the coronavirus can be transmitted in all areas of the globe, including hot climates. It won't just go away in the Northern Hemisphere as the weather gets warmer in spring and summer, experts say. We do not yet know if COVID-19 is a seasonal virus like influenza is, meaning it loses the ability to infect cells as the temperature rises.

Myth 10: Garlic or herbs will cure or protect you from the coronavirus

Luke Besley/Unsplash

Garlic is said to help boost your immune system and because of that, there have been rumors circulating online that it could also prevent a coronavirus infection. One post states that garlic is particularly helpful if you boil it and drink the water that's left over.

Some posts on social media also claim that brewing tea from herbs (some suggest using sea moss) can protect kids from getting the coronavirus.

Truth: While garlic is good for your immune system, it can't protect you from being infected with the coronavirus, according to the WHO. The same goes for DIY herbal tea.

Myth 11: Drinking, injecting or spraying alcohol or bleach on your body will protect you from getting coronavirus

As stores started to run out of hand sanitizer, people looked for other ways to protect themselves, including by spraying disinfectants on their bodies or clothes. Some people have even ingested bleach, methanol and ethanol as a means to protect themselves.

Truth: The WHO says that not only can ingesting or spraying bleach, ethanol or methanol on your body harm your mucous membranes, it won't protect you from getting the coronavirus. Furthermore, you should never drink or inject rubbing alcohol or bleach to protect yourself -- doing either can cause serious health problems and even death.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.