Is Coronavirus Airborne? Will It Live In My Bathroom? Is it OK to Fly or Eat Out? Are Men More Susceptible? Busting Myths and Confirming Facts of COVID-19

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Is coronavirus airborne? Will it live in my bathroom? Is it OK to fly or eat out? Are men more susceptible? Busting myths and confirming facts of COVID-19

March 12, 2020

After consulting with health professionals, President Trump said Wednesday he would suspend all travel to the U.S. from Europe

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

Conspirancy theorists be damned.

There are some outlandish rumors about COVID-19 percolating on the internet: Coronavirus is a dastardly bioweapon designed to wreak economic armageddon on the West. It’s a left-wing conspiracy to damage the reelection prospects of President Trump. It’s a Chinese conspiracy: COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, originated in a laboratory in Wuhan.

Such paranoid speculation is at the very least unhelpful, health professionals say, and only serves to politicize a global public-health emergency and distract from potentially life-saving measures to contain and/or slow down the spread of coronavirus. After jumping from animals to humans at a food market in Wuhan, China in early December, it has already reached 100 countries.

Conspiracy theories politicize a public-health emergency and distract from potentially life-saving measures.

On Wednesday evening, Trump announced that he was “marshaling the full power of the federal government” by suspending all travel from Europe to the U.S. for one month, effective Friday at midnight. The restrictions won’t apply to the U.K. “We made a lifesaving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe.” He called it a “foreign” virus “seeded” by European travelers.

Earlier that day, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. An outbreak is deemed to have become a pandemic when it has spread from human-to-human on several continents, while an epidemic is a disease that infects regions or a community. “We’re deeply concerned,” WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

Worldwide, there were 126,254 COVID-19 cases and 4,637 deaths as of Wednesday evening; about 68,266 people have recovered, according to data published by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The U.S. has 1,312 confirmed cases, and has recorded 38 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

As the world struggles to come to terms with the prospect of COVID-19 changing the way we socialize and work, people are left wondering whether the financial markets have had a massive overreaction to yet another virus that will eventually fizzle out, or whether it’s time to buckle down and heed warnings of the disease’s seriousness issued by governments and health authorities.

This article breaks down the facts and fiction of the global pandemic:

Is coronavirus airborne like measles?

Contrary to some online speculation, this does not appear to be an airborne virus in the same vein as measles or chickenpox, said Luis Ostrosky, professor and vice chairman of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas. “It’s a virus that travels in droplets. This is very good news. With an airborne virus, one person could infect the whole room.”

“With coronavirus, you need to be in close contact with a person,” he added. Health officials recommend “social distancing” in public spaces. “You would need to touch contaminated secretions to become infected, or to be within six feet of a sick person who is coughing or sneezing,” Ostrosky said. “Studies have looked at how far spit and little droplets fly, and that’s the magic number.”

How long can it live in your bathroom?

“It’s not certain how long the virus that causes Coronavirus survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses,” WHO said. “Studies suggest that coronaviruses — including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus — may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.” Higher temperatures, based on earlier coronaviruses, are likely to degrade it.

Its life span will also vary, depending on the type of surface, temperature and/or humidity. Bathrooms are a welcoming environment for coronaviruses. “Previous coronaviruses can remain viable in cold, moist surfaces up to nine days,” Ostrosky said. So if you are sharing a home with someone who has coronavirus, he strongly advises against sharing the same bathroom.

Will recirculated air on a plane make me sick?

In-flight oxygen is probably higher quality than the air in your home. “If you have an infected person in the front of the plane,and you’re in the back of the plane, your risk is close to zero simply because the area of exposure is thought to be roughly six feet from the infected person,” according to Charles Chiu, professor of laboratory medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

“Ventilation rates provide a total change of air 20 to 30 times per hour,” WHO says. “Most modern aircraft have recirculation systems, which recycle up to 50% of cabin air. The recirculated air is usually passed through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, of the type used in hospital operating theatres and intensive care units, which trap dust particles, bacteria, fungi and viruses.”

Are men more affected by this than women?

“Men do tend to be more affected than women and their symptoms are often more severe,” Ostrosky said. “Oestrogen has a protective effect. When scientists block oestrogen production in animals, they become more susceptible to coronaviruses and they get worse symptoms. But please don’t take oestrogen injections or pills. If you are a man, they will not help you.”

Does difference exist with influenza? “No, with the flu it’s pretty even,” he added. They have similar symptoms, including a sore throat and coughing, but they have other characteristics that set them apart. Coronavirus is a type of virus common in humans and animals, and causes mild-to-moderate respiratory illnesses. But it can travel through your body and damage other organs.

Do face masks guard against coronavirus?

Face masks help prevent patients from spreading the virus, but they don’t protect the healthy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. They can help act as a barrier if a sick person coughs or sneezes. “Most face masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and don’t prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales,” the CDC added.

What’s more, face masks are needed for health services. N95 masks are tighter-fitting than surgical masks and protect against small particles and large droplets, according to the CDC. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that there are only 30 million N95 masks in the national stockpile, and “as many as 300 million masks are needed in the U.S. for health-care workers.”

Should I cancel my movie and dinner date?

Whether you’re on a plane or a train, you are at risk of contracting coronavirus, especially if you are seated near an infected person who coughs or sneezes and/or you touch a contaminated surface and then your face without properly washing your hands. WHO said there’s no difference between sitting in a restaurant, office or movie theater. If you’re near an infected person, you’re at risk.

While you can’t do much about being seated next to an infected passenger on a plane at 30,000 feet, you can exercise responsible “social distancing,” Ostrosky said. “The more people who are in that enclosed space with you, the higher the risk you have of being exposed to someone who is sick,” he added. “If we had to rank them, there is an increased risk in larger groups.”

How COVID-19 is transmitted