Coronavirus: Fact vs. fiction

BOSTON — As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so does misinformation.

To help clear that up, Boston 25 News spoke with an infectious disease specialist who tried to debunk as many coronavirus-related myths and help people focus on what’s really important - disease prevention.

While the coronavirus spreads faster than the flu, you’re more likely to die from the flu than the coronavirus - but in no way will drinking bleach kill either of those viruses.

In less than 24 hours, nearly 3,000 new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in China, where the first case in Massachusetts was confirmed on Saturday.

By Sunday, the ninth coronavirus patient in the United States was confirmed by Santa Clara county authorities in California.

Yet, Dr. Todd Ellerin, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Hospital, says the risk for contracting the virus in Massachusetts, for the average person, is not a big concern.

“There’s only been a handful of cases in the U.S., zero deaths so far,” said Ellerin. “We have to compare that to the flu - we’re in the middle of an epidemic. There’s been over 15 million cases, over 100,000 hospitalizations, and probably over 10,000 deaths. So you’re talking about very different things.”

Nevertheless, people are still trying to do whatever they can to protect themselves, but Ellerin says the surgical masks that have been flying off the shelves aren’t going to do much in the way of shielding you from the virus.

Boston 25 News visited store after store on Sunday, from pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens to hardware stores like Home Depot, face masks were pretty much sold out everywhere.

“People are becoming aware and yeah they are being sold out at different places,” said Paul Nimblett, a customer.

One CVS worker in Norwood said they not only ran out of surgical masks as the demand for them grows, but their warehouses don’t even have any more masks to restock their shelves.

“We sold out about a week ago and I don’t know when we’re going to get any more,” said Valerie, who works at CVS. "And I know all the other pharmacies are out too

Hardware and paint stores were also sold out of the masks, where the manager at a local Ace Hardware said he’s never seen this many people looking to buy masks at his Walpole store.

“Usually this time of year there aren’t a whole lot of people painting, so it’s been pretty strange to have people coming in and that’s just what they’re asking for, as soon as they come in the door, where are the dust masks?” said Bill Sinclair.

After scouting several locations, one of our reporters finally found a few masks at a hardware store in Walpole. However, a warning on the back of the packages says “Do not use this mask for exposure to airborne biological agents such as the flu.”

“They’re looking for something that looks similar that may not provide the coverage they’re looking for,” said Sinclair.

Ellerin also adds that taking antibiotics to treat the coronavirus and that herbal remedies can treat the symptoms are both myths that people have been spreading on the internet and should not be taken seriously.

“So far, we have no proven treatments for this- things like Tamiflu that have no activity against it,” said Ellerin. “With that said, both Influenza and the coronavirus have very similar symptoms, so it’s very important to get the flu shot because that reduces flu-like illness and will reduce any confusion between the viruses.”

The one thing that is true is that the coronavirus does spread at a quicker rate than the flu and people should be taking all appropriate steps to ensure they don’t catch it, such as washing your hands and not touching your face after touching surfaces out in public.

“This is a novel coronavirus,” said Ellerin. “We’ve seen two others in the past. Back in 2002, we saw SARS that had a mortality of 10%. That’s significantly higher than this. There’s MERS, which is still ongoing, although much less human to human transmission, that has a mortality rate in the middle east of nearly 40%.”

Currently, the mortality rate for the coronavirus is 2 to 3%, but Ellerin thinks it’ll be even lower as patients with mild symptoms aren’t going to the hospital and aren’t getting diagnosed.

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