COVID-19: There is no medicine yet, don’t get misled by misinformation

South Asia Check / March 25, 2020

.     A CDC computer rendering of the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus strain that causes COVID-19.

By Deepak Adhikari

Two months after a Nepali student who returned from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered, this week two new cases of coronavirus have been detected in Nepal — a 19-year-old student who returned from France tested positive for the virus on Monday and on Wednesday a returnee from Qatar was found to have contracted the virus. Due to lack of knowledge about the novel coronavirus, which is rapidly spreading across the world, misleading claims and false information are being circulated on the social media. We have examined several such claims being circulated among the users of social media in Nepal.

Are Chloroquine and Azithromycin effective in treating COVID-19?

Until now there is no known treatment for COVID-19. So far, doctors have provided COVID-19 patients with supply of oxygen, prescribed medicines to control fever and boost the immune system to fight against the virus. But on social media platforms, these two drugs, which have been available for decades, have been touted as cures for the disease. Chloroquine is an anti-malarial drug and Azithromycin is an antibiotic, which has an anti-inflammatory reaction when used for a longer time. “When used together, they both have potential to cause cardiac arrhythmia,” said Bishal Gyawali, a medical doctor. “So in the absence of proven data regarding efficacy and safety, I don’t think we can recommend such medication. A lot of the news reports regarding its use are anecdotal and maybe pharmaceutical companies are also working behind it,” he told South Asia Check.

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are currently no data from Randomized Clinical Trials or RCT (which is strongest form of clinical trial) to inform us on clinical guidance about the use, doses or duration of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of Covid-19 infection.

Scientists have been working round the clock to invent medicines to fight the disease. According to The New York Times, dozens of drugs are under investigation for potential treatment. The World Health Organisation has launched a mega-trial of four most promising drugs to treat COVID-19, according to the Science Magazine.

.     A message circulating on social media including Facebook recommends unproven medication to treat COVID-19.

How long does coronavirus survive on surfaces?

Most scientists agree that coronavirus is resilient and spreads very fast. But they don’t have definite answers on how it spreads as the science related to it is still evolving. There was also uncertainty about how long the virus survives on surfaces of various materials.

But a recent research led by Neeltje van Deremalen, a virologist at the US National Institutes of Health and her colleagues has shed new light on its survival. According to the research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the virus could be detected in aerosols and on surfaces ranging from a few hours to several days. “We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel,” the report said.

A BBC report suggests that the virus can be inactivated within a minute by disinfecting the surfaces with 62-71 percent alcohol. Some studies on other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS have found that they can survive on metal, glass and plastic for up to nine days. But scientists point out it depends on the type of the material, its temperature and humidity.

Read this also: COVID-19: What’s circulating on social media and what are the facts?

Will drying your clothes in sunlight kill virus?

This is not yet proven. It has recently emerged that the coronavirus survives on clothes for 5-6 hours after being contaminated, but it’s not yet proven that sunlight kills it. “It’s true that the virus cannot grow in sunlight. But we don’t have any basis to claim that drying your clothes in sunlight kills it,” said Pushpa Mani Kharal, a medical doctor. But he recommended people to wash clothes after returning from public or crowded places.

Does taking hot bath prevent coronavirus?  

Temperature of water from shower stands at 27-28 degrees Celsius. But studies so far have found the coronavirus cannot survive temperature from 50-60 degrees Celsius. Therefore, taking hot bath cannot prevent you from contracting the disease. “Frequently washing your hands with soap and water is the only prevention at the moment,” said Dr Kharal. “Meanwhile, taking bath with very hot water can be very dangerous.”

Does coronavirus spread through fruits, vegetables and food?

Coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets from coughing or sneezing. It transmits if droplets from an infected person enters your food or you share food and utensils with a sick person. That’s why touching your eyes, mouth and nose risks transmission. But if you pick up fresh vegetables from your garden or eat packaged or refrigerated food, the risks are minimal, according to experts. Since it’s a new virus, our knowledge about is still evolving. Further research will help us understand the disease more.

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