Skip to content

By Dr Kate Harrison, lecturer of immunology and researcher of viral pathology, and Dr Gareth Nye, lecturer of anatomy and physiology and researcher of maternal and fetal health.

Myth Buster

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Lots of fake stories are being spread about COVID-19, and these can be just as dangerous as the virus itself. Make sure you’re getting your information from credible sources, and not just things shared on social media.

  1.  Drinking water will stop you catching the virus – False, the virus can enter through nose and eyes, as well as your mouth. Even if it does enter via your mouth, it fuses with cells and cannot be washed away.
  2. Face masks will stop you catching it completely - Face masks don’t really stop you catching it – as above, the virus can also enter your eyes and nose so face masks will not stop you catching it. Although they may help stop you from spreading it if you have the virus. Doctors and nurses are wearing them because a little more protection is better than none at all!
  3. It only kills the elderly so younger people are fine – Younger people may not be dying at the same rate but they are just as likely to get very serious symptoms. Younger people may also have existing health issues which can make the chance of the virus being fatal much higher.
  4. A vaccine is around the corner – Even though vaccines are already being tested in humans right now, they must go through several rounds of rigorous testing to ensure they are safe and effective. 18-24 months is a more of a realistic timeframe for a vaccine, even at the highest priority.

COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is part of the coronavirus family of viruses, in the same way we have our own names but are all homo sapiens. In essence, coronaviruses are a group of viruses which infect birds and mammals. In humans, coronaviruses can cause problems in our airways (lungs and windpipe) which can vary from mild cold like symptoms to very lethal infections that can prevent us from breathing altogether.

In the last 20 years, two other coronaviruses have caused dangerous outbreaks around the world. From 2002-2004, SARS-CoV caused over 8,000 infections and 750 deaths, while Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), has appeared twice, in 2012 and 2015, causing over 2,000 cases and 860 deaths. However, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is significantly more infectious than both SARS and MERS, with current recorded deaths over 30,000 with an estimated number of infected patients rapidly approaching 700,000 and almost every country in the world reporting cases.

These numbers are changing rapidly every day, so for current estimates check out the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 situation dashboard.

Thankfully, recovery rates are high. However, the recovery is based on a fully functioning healthcare system being in place.

So why are we isolating?

Coronaviruses are spread through droplets of fluid from the respiratory tract via coughing, sneezing and even breathing. Although the virus can survive in the air for only a couple of hours, scientists have discovered that it can survive on surfaces for some time – up to 72 hours. Therefore, we can pick the virus up on our hands, then transfer it to our face where it can then enter the body through the nose, eyes and mouth. This is why the message being shared widely is wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

In order for an outbreak of a disease to continue, it must have a constant supply of new people to infect. The easiest way to stop the transmission, and therefore limit an outbreak is simply to minimise contact with each other, reducing the potential number of new hosts for the virus. This is why we are being told to stay at home as much as possible, to reduce the number of new people that the virus can come into contact with

If we do have to leave the house, we are being asked to stay two metres apart and be mindful of what we touch. This may seem odd if we don’t have symptoms, however it is crucial to helping to prevent the spread. Due to the ability of the virus to survive on surfaces, we must also be mindful of what we touch in shops and places of work as we may be catching the virus without even realising, hours or even days after an infected person touched the same thing.

When we cough or sneeze, the virus escapes our body in liquid droplets. As SARS-CoV-2 is quite big (for a virus) it makes these droplets quite heavy and unable to travel very far, even with the force of a cough or a sneeze. Estimates put this at less than two metres, hence the distance aspect of social distancing. You can experiment with this for yourself: fill one spray bottle with coloured water and one spray bottle with paint and see if you can see the difference in spray distances and spread.

Often, we hear the line: “Well I don’t have symptoms, why should I stay indoors?”. The way the virus is currently behaving means you can have it and still be contagious for several days before you even start to show symptoms. The most obvious case in point is our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has come down with symptoms and seems to have spread it (or caught it) to the very people telling us to stay indoors. If these people can catch it, anyone can.

In addition, you never know who you may inadvertently infect. Some people are far more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its severe complications than others, such as those over 60 and people with existing health issues. These people have been advised to stay inside and self-isolate for 12 weeks, but this isn’t always possible and they may need to get essentials from the shop, just as you or I do.

If so many recover, what’s the point?

The main idea of all these measures: social distancing, self-isolation and staying at home is to ‘flatten the curve’. This term has been used a lot in the media but what does it actually mean? Well, we only have a finite amount of equipment and NHS staff to help the most seriously affected recover from the disease. We are already beginning to see some hospitals struggle to treat everyone who is infected. By reducing transmissions and ‘flattening the curve’, i.e. spreading the total number of infections out over a longer period of time, we are aiming to reduce the amount of serious cases at any one time (figure 1). This will ease the pressure on the NHS and allow everyone to get treated and have the best chance of survival. Even if a virus isn’t lethal most of the time, it soon can be if the healthcare system is overloaded. It also has knock on effects for other patients. For example, if your local hospital is already overloaded with COVID-19 patients, where can they find the resources for you if you have a car accident, or your grandparent if they have a stroke?

How are we following the guidelines?

All University staff are working from home and working hard on alternative assessments and online remote teaching. We are still available on email and Microsoft Teams for your questions and to give advice as PATs even more so now. Remember that we are all going through this together, students, admin, lecturers even the VC, so don’t feel isolated and alone, reach out as you always would do.


In essence, staying at home prevents the viral spread. Preventing the spread saves overwhelming the NHS. By keeping the NHS working, it can save lives. It only works if everyone pulls together and thinks of others. 1 infected person will infect at least 2.5 people inadvertently. They can then infect at least another 2.5 people each and so on. This may not sound like much, but 1 person can lead to thousands of new cases, and the total number of cases can double every few days. So, stay indoors, wash your hands and be mindful of others around you.


Share this content