As coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, we’re working to answer the questions on many parents’ minds. This is a fast moving situation, so some information may be outdated. For the latest updates, read the New York Times’s live coronavirus coverage here.
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, confusion and misconceptions about what can protect you are becoming as contagious as the virus. We spoke to doctors and experts in infectious diseases about whether there’s any truth to these common claims.
Purell can help protect you.
Maybe. Hand sanitizers with over 60 percent alcohol are effective in killing viruses like the coronavirus, Dr. William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said. But no one knows for sure if they will work on the current virus. Gels like Purell may be easier for small children in particular, who may lack the coordination to do the full hand washing technique recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vigorously scrubbing both sides and between the fingers for at least 20 seconds. But washing hands is still crucial, and potentially more effective in protecting you, since it both removes germs and the dirt they cling to. “You can’t do it enough,” said H. Cody Meissner, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric infectious disease at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases. Antibacterial soap has no added benefit, Dr. Schaffner said. “Just be thorough — and don’t forget your thumbs!”
Stock up on vitamin C.
No. You might be tempted to bulk order vitamin C or other supposedly immune-boosting supplements, but their effectiveness is a long-standing fallacy. Even in the cases of colds or flus, vitamin C hasn’t shown a consistent benefit. “If there’s going to be an advantage, it’s going to be very modest,” Dr. Schaffner said. That said, extra vitamin C won’t do you any harm — “unless you’re just downing bottles of it,” said Dr. Frank Esper, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital. In those cases excessive vitamin C can be damaging to the stomach and kidneys. There is no evidence that supplements like zinc, green tea and echinacea are beneficial to prevent coronavirus, said Dr. Mark J. Mulligan, M.D., division director of the infectious diseases and vaccine center at NYU Langone Medical Center. “I do not recommend spending money on supplements for this purpose.”
Everyone should wear masks.
No. “Do masks protect you? Yeah, that’s why we wear them.” Dr. Esper said. “But should a person walking down the road be wearing a mask to protect you in the U.S.? No.” At present, doctors advised against healthy, symptom-free members of the general public wearing masks; hospital workers and those caring for infected patients are a different story.
Surgical masks are not intended to prevent us from getting a viral infection, Dr. Schaffner said; most of them are too loose to be effective. They can prevent an infected person from transmitting the disease, but the C.D.C. recommends that healthy people who are not health care workers or caring for the sick should avoid face masks. “They are important for patients, not the public, based on the current situation,” Dr. Mulligan said. “But things might change. Let me rephrase that: Things will change.”
Wear gloves when touching common surfaces like elevator buttons and subway poles.
Not really. Wearing gloves is “probably not effective” in preventing the spread of the virus, Dr. Esper said, “because then what are you doing with them? Eventually, the gloves themselves become contaminated.” Most gloves have minute holes, Dr. Meissner said. “Just simple hand washing with soap and water is the most time-tested and the most effective intervention.”
Get your flu shot.
Yes, but not for coronavirus. You might have the sense from social media that flu shots help ward off coronavirus. While the flu shot has no impact on coronavirus, Dr. Schaffner said, we are still at the tail end of flu season. Getting a flu shot is “absolutely helpful” for ensuring good health in general, Dr. Esper said. “You’re much more likely to get influenza right now than you are to get coronavirus.”
Dani Blum is a news assistant at The New York Times.