Coronavirus myths explored

As coronavirus continues to make the news, a host of untruths has surrounded the topic. In this Special Feature, we address some of these myths and conspiracy theories.

The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has spread from Wuhan, China, to every continent except Antarctica.

The World Health Organization (WHO) changed their classification of the situation from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

The virus has been responsible for tens of millions of infections globally, causing more than a million deaths. The United States has been the most affected country.

As ever, when the word “pandemic” began appearing in headlines, people became fearful — and with fear came misinformation and rumors.

Below, we dissect some of the most common myths currently circulating on social media and beyond.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak 

1. Spraying chlorine or alcohol on the skin kills viruses in the body

Applying alcohol or chlorine to the skin can cause harm, especially if it enters the eyes or mouth. These chemicals can disinfect surfaces, but people should not use them on their bodies.

Also, these products cannot kill viruses inside the body.

2. Only older adults and people with preexisting conditions are at risk of infections and complications

SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, can transmit to people of any age. However, older adults and individuals with preexisting health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, or asthma, are more likely to become severely ill.

While people under 40, including children, are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19, the disease can lead to complications and death in anyone.

3. Children cannot get COVID-19

Anyone, of any age, can develop the infection that causes COVID-19.

So far, most COVID-19 cases have been in adults, but children are not immune. That said, most children who develop COVID-19 have mild symptoms or none at all.

Also, on May 15, 2020, the WHO released a commentary about an inflammatory condition in children and adolescents that may have links with COVID-19.

The condition, called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, known as MIS-C, has features similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

Scientists currently know little about this condition, but research from May suggests that it is rare, “probably affecting no more than 1 in 1,000 children exposed to SARS-CoV-2.”

4. COVID-19 is just like the flu

Infection with the virus SARS-CoV-2 can cause COVID-19, an illness that can cause flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, a fever, and a cough. Symptoms of either COVID-19 or the flu can be mild, severe, or rarely, fatal. Both illnesses can also cause pneumonia.

However, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious. Different countries have reported different mortality rates, and the case fatality rate in the U.S. appears to be around 2.6%.

While scientists are still determining the exact mortality rate based on developing data, it is likely to be many times higher than that of the seasonal flu.

5. Everyone with COVID-19 dies

This is false. As we explain above, COVID-19 is fatal for a small percentage of people who develop the illness.

The WHO have reported that around 80% of people with COVID-19 experience a relatively form of the illness and do not need specialist treatment in a hospital. Mild symptoms may include a fever, a cough, a sore throat, tiredness, and shortness of breath.

Also, many people with the underlying infection experience no symptoms.

6. Cats and dogs spread the coronavirus

There have been several reports of pets developing the infection, including in the U.S. In most cases, the pets became sick after coming into contact with people who had COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Scientists are debating the importance of these cases in animals. For instance, Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom, says:

“We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of the virus. I still think it’s questionable how relevant it is to the human outbreak, as most of the global outbreak has been driven by human-to-human transmission.”

7. Face masks always protect against the coronavirus

Healthcare workers use professional face masks that fit tightly to protect themselves from infections.

Disposable and cloth masks can protect against droplets, but neither can protect against aerosolized particles.

The CDC recommend that all people wear cloth face masks in public areas where it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot, or 2-meter, distance from others. This helps slow the spread of the virus.

Even while wearing a mask, it is essential to continue with other precautions, such as not touching the face, physical distancing, and washing the hands frequently.

Surgical masks and N95 respirators provide greater protection, but reserve these for healthcare workers.

8. Hand dryers kill the coronavirus

Hand dryers do not kill SARS-CoV-2. The best way to protect oneself and others from the virus is to wash the hands with soap and water frequently for at least 20 seconds at a time.

When this is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

9. SARS-CoV-2 is just a mutated form of the common cold virus

Coronaviruses are a large family, and each has spiky proteins on their surface. Some use humans as their primary host and cause the common cold. 

Other coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, primarily infect animals.

Like COVID-19, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are caused by coronaviruses. These viruses also initially passed to humans from animals.

10. You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus

The longer a person is close to someone with the infection, the likelier the virus is to transmit. However, the virus can pass from person to person in under 10 minutes.

11. Rinsing the nose with saline protects against the coronavirus

There is no evidence that a saline nasal rinse protects against any respiratory infections. 

Some research suggests that a rinse might ease the symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections, but scientists have not found that this technique reduces the risk of infection.

12. You can protect yourself by gargling bleach

People should never put bleach in their mouths. Gargling bleach could never benefit a person’s health. 

Bleach is corrosive and can cause serious damage.

13. Antibiotics kill the coronavirus

Antibiotics only kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses.

14. Thermal scanners can diagnose the coronavirus

Thermal scanners can detect whether someone has a fever — which might result from any number of health issues.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can appear 2–14 days after the infection develops. This means that even if a person develops symptoms, they may have a normal temperature for days before a fever begins.

15. Garlic protects against coronaviruses

Some research suggests that garlic may slow the growth of some species of bacteria. COVID-19 results from a virus, not bacteria. 

There is no evidence that garlic can protect people from COVID-19.

16. Parcels from China can spread the coronavirus

From previous research into coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, including those that cause SARS and MERS, scientists believe that the virus cannot survive on letters or packages for extended periods.

The CDC explain that “Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products, or packaging.”

17. Home remedies can cure and protect against COVID-19

No home remedies can protect against COVID-19. This goes for vitamin C, essential oils, silver colloid, sesame oil, garlic, fish tank cleaner, sage, or water, even when a person sips it every 15 minutes.

The best approach is to wash the hands frequently, for 20 seconds at a time, to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, to wear a face covering in public, and to avoid crowded places.

18. You can catch the coronavirus from eating Chinese food in the US

No, you cannot.

19. You can catch the coronavirus from urine and feces

This is likely false, but the jury is currently out. According to Prof. John Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in the U.K.:

“It isn’t a very pleasant thought, but every time you swallow, you swallow mucus from your upper respiratory tract. In fact, this is an important defensive mechanism. This sweeps viruses and bacteria down into our gut where they are denatured in the acid conditions of our stomachs.”

“With modern, very highly sensitive detection mechanisms, we can detect these viruses in feces. Usually, the viruses that we can detect in this way are not infectious to others, as they have been destroyed by our guts.”

However, it is worth noting that some research suggests that viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 might persist in feces. A research letter in JAMA also concludes that SARS-CoV-2 is present in feces.

20. The virus will die off when temperatures rise

Some viruses, such as cold and flu viruses, spread more easily in colder months. This does not mean that their transmission stops in warmer weather.

As it stands, scientists do not know how temperature changes influence the behavior of SARS-CoV-2.

21. The coronavirus is the deadliest virus known to humans

While SARS-CoV-2 does appear to be more dangerous than influenza viruses, it is not the deadliest virus that people have faced. Others, such as the Ebola virus, have higher mortality rates.

22. Flu and pneumonia vaccines can protect against COVID-19

Because SARS-CoV-2 is distinct from other viruses, no existing vaccines can protect against it.

23. The virus originated in a laboratory in China

There is no evidence to back up this rumor, which has circulated on the internet. As a recent study demonstrates, SARS-CoV-2 is a natural product of evolution.

Some researchers believe that SARS-CoV-2 jumped from pangolins to humans. Others think that it passed to us from bats, like SARS did.

24. The outbreak began because people ate bat soup

While scientists are confident that the virus started in animals, there is no evidence that soup was involved.

25. 5G helps SARS-CoV-2 spread

As the world becomes more connected, some regions are rolling out 5G mobile technology. This has prompted a raft of conspiracy theories.

One of the most recent to emerge is that 5G is responsible for the swift spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the globe. This is a myth.

Some people believe that 5G helps viruses communicate, often citing a paper from 2011. In this study, the authors conclude that bacteria can communicate via electromagnetic signals.

However, experts dispute this theory. In any case, SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, not a bacterium.

Wuhan was one of the first cities to trial 5G in China, which helps explain the origin of some of these theories. However, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou also rolled out 5G at a similar time.

It is also worth noting that COVID-19 has significantly impacted countries with very little 5G coverage, such as Iran.

26. Drinking alcohol reduces the risk of infection

The WHO have released a response to the series of myths surrounding alcohol and COVID-19. They explain that while alcohol can disinfect the skin, it does not have this effect inside the body.

They continue, “Consuming any alcohol poses health risks, but consuming high-strength ethyl alcohol (ethanol), particularly if it has been adulterated with methanol, can result in severe health consequences, including death.”

Also, in a fact sheet on the subject, they explain that “Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system — and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.”

And because alcohol is associated with a number of diseases, it may make people more vulnerable to COVID-19.

27. Injecting or consuming bleach or disinfectant kills the virus

Consuming or injecting disinfectant or bleach does not wipe out viruses in the body, and it can be extremely dangerous.

As Dr. Wayne Carter, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, in the U.K., explains, “Disinfectants and bleach are strong oxidizing agents, useful to kill bacteria or viruses when they are deposited on surfaces, but these agents should not be ingested or injected. These agents can cause severe tissue burns and blood vessel damage.”

Dr. Penny Ward, a visiting professor of pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, in the U.K., notes, “Drinking bleach kills. Injecting bleach kills faster.”

28. You can contract the coronavirus in swimming pools

As the CDC observe, no evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 transmits via the water in swimming pools, hot tubs, or water parks. If this water is disinfected with chlorine or bromine, it should inactivate the virus.

Still, the virus can transmit in all the usual ways in these and any other shared spaces. A person contracts a SARS-CoV-2 infection by inhaling respiratory droplets that contain the virus or coming into contact with infected surfaces.

As in other public places, the CDC recommend staying 6 feet, or 2 meters, away from others at pools and water parks and wearing cloth face coverings when not in the water.

People who operate pools should take extra care to clean and disinfect all facilities.

What should we do?

The CDC recommend the following simple ways to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2:

  • avoiding close contact with people who seem ill or report symptoms
  • trying not to touch the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • staying home if any symptoms appear
  • sneezing into a tissue, then throwing it in the trash, or sneezing into the crook of the elbow
  • using standard cleaning sprays and wipes to disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • washing the hands with soap regularly, for at least 20 seconds at a time
  • using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable
  • wearing a cloth face covering in stores, pharmacies, and other public settings

What to know about COVID-19 symptoms in children


Although there are notable exceptions, most evidence suggests that COVID-19 is much less dangerous for children than it is for adults and infants.

Knowing the symptoms of COVID-19 in children can help parents and caregivers identify the emergency warning signs and seek appropriate care.

This article covers the symptoms of COVID-19 in children, some potential complications, and when to see a doctor.

Symptoms of COVID-19 in children

Data from both China and the United States on children with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, suggest that the risk of severe illness is lower in children than it is in adults.

A study of 2,752 cases of COVID-19 in children found that three had died, though the exact cause of death in each case is under investigation.

Current evidence suggests that infants have a higher rate of hospitalization, with some requiring treatment in intensive care units.

In China, more than 90% of children with COVID-19 had no symptoms and only mild-to-moderate disease.

The following are some symptoms that children may experience:

  • Fever: Although most adults report a fever with COVID-19, fevers are slightly less common among children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Flu-like symptoms: Around 73% of children with COVID-19 had a fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Shortness of breath is much less common in children. In one analysis, 43% of adults and just 13% of children had this symptom.
  • Respiratory tract symptoms: Children with mild forms of the illness may develop a runny nose, cough, or sore throat.
  • Digestive symptoms: Some children develop vomiting, diarrhea, or nausea.
  • Changes in the sense of smell: A 2020 analysis found that most adults with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell. Researchers have not assessed this symptom in young people, but children may also lose their sense of taste or smell.
  • Pain: Children with COVID-19 may develop muscle pain or a headache.
  • Behavioral changes: Children may be moody or cry more often, especially if they are too young to verbally express their emotions or identify their symptoms. Some children may also be anxious, especially if they know that COVID-19 can be dangerous.

Overall, COVID-19 symptoms tend to be less severe in children. Children are also less likely than adults to report each symptom.

Complications

Children with underlying health conditions — such as lung disease, heart disease, or a weak immune system — are more susceptible to serious COVID-19 complications.

A CDC study that assessed COVID-19 symptoms in children used data on hospitalization and underlying medical conditions for 295 children. In that group, 77% of hospitalized children had at least one other medical condition. This suggests that comorbidities are a significant risk factor for hospitalization in children.

Even among high risk children, however, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is very low. Of 2,143 children included in a Chinese CDC study, just one 14-year-old died. Also, as above, 3 out of 2,572 children in a CDC study died, though the cause in each case is currently unconfirmed.

Some other potential complications include:

  • organ failure
  • the need to use a ventilator
  • sepsis, which is a severe infection that affects many systems in the body
  • heart failure
  • issues that can cause life threatening blood clots

Children with severe symptoms usually develop them within a week of getting sick.

A small number of children have also developed symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). This syndrome can cause symptoms that resemble those of toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease. Without treatment, it may be fatal.

Children with MIS-C may develop a rash, stomach pain, bloodshot eyes, exhaustion, diarrhea, or vomiting.

The following symptoms require emergency medical attention:

  • confusion
  • fever
  • chest pressure or pain
  • neck pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • blue or white face, fingers, or toes
  • an inability to stay awake
  • severe stomach pain

When to see a doctor

Most children have either no symptoms or only mild-to-moderate ones. These children do not need to go to the hospital or see a doctor.

However, parents and caregivers should call a pediatrician if their child shows any symptoms of COVID-19. The pediatrician can offer advice on which symptoms to watch and some suggestions for home treatment.

In some areas, a child may also need a referral for COVID-19 testing.

Call a doctor if:

  • the child seems very ill
  • they develop a rash
  • their symptoms get better and then get worse again
  • they recover from COVID-19 but then develop inflammatory symptoms, such as a rash, fever, or bloodshot eyes

Go to the emergency room if a child:

  • gasps for air or shows signs of respiratory distress, such as bluish lips, breathing very fast, or difficulty breathing
  • seems confused, seems lethargic, or cannot wake up
  • reports pressure or pain in their chest
  • has symptoms of organ failure, such as intense pain in the stomach, difficulty passing urine, an inability to move without help, or an inability to think clearly

Treatment

No medication can cure COVID-19. Although hospitals and researchers are exploring experimental treatments, these are currently only available to very sick people.

Most children can recover with home treatment. To help a child with COVID-19:

  • Encourage them to rest.
  • Give them lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Check on them regularly to ensure that they are not getting worse.
  • Ask a doctor about over-the-counter pain and fever relievers.
  • Have them stay in a single area of the house, if possible. Clean and disinfect all surfaces they touch, and encourage other family members to avoid them. Also, wear a face mask when caring for a sick child.

Parents and caregivers may find these guidelines challenging to follow when caring for a child or infant. The CDC offer some advice on how to manage risk around children.

It may also be a good idea to speak to a medical professional about how best to care for a child with a suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection. Children under 2 years of age should not wear a face covering.

Very sick children may need to go to the hospital. In the hospital, doctors will focus on managing the child’s symptoms. They might need oxygen, intravenous fluids, or steroid medications to help them breathe.

Rarely, a child might need a ventilator if they cannot breathe well on their own.

15 natural ways to lower your blood pressure


High blood pressure is a dangerous condition that can damage your heart. It affects one in three people in the US and 1 billion people worldwide.

If left uncontrolled, high blood pressure raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.

But there’s good news. There are a number of things you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally, even without medication.

Here are 15 natural ways to combat high blood pressure.

1. Walk and exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to lower high blood pressure.

Regular exercise helps make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which lowers the pressure in your arteries.

In fact, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, per week, can help lower blood pressure and improve your heart health.

What’s more, doing even more exercise than this reduces your blood pressure even further, according to the National Walkers’ Health Study.

Bottom line: Walking just 30 minutes a day can help lower your blood pressure. More exercise helps reduce it even further.

2. Reduce your sodium intake

Salt intake is high around the world. In large part, this is due to processed and prepared foods.

For this reason, many public health efforts are aimed at lowering salt in the food industry.

Many studies have linked high salt intake with high blood pressure and heart events, including stroke.

However, more recent research indicates that the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure is less clear.

One reason for this may be genetic differences in how people process sodium. About half of people with high blood pressure and a quarter of people with normal levels seem to have a sensitivity to salt.

If you already have high blood pressure, it’s worth cutting back your sodium intake to see if it makes a difference. Swap out processed foods with fresh ones and try seasoning with herbs and spices rather than salt.

Bottom line: Most guidelines for lowering blood pressure recommend reducing sodium intake. However, that recommendation might make the most sense for people who are salt-sensitive.

3. Drink less alcohol

Drinking alcohol can raise blood pressure. In fact, alcohol is linked to 16% of high blood pressure cases around the world.

While some research has suggested that low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol may protect the heart, those benefits may be offset by adverse effects.

In the U.S., moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. If you drink more than that, cut back.

Bottom line: Drinking alcohol in any quantity may raise your blood pressure. Limit your drinking in line with the recommendations.

4. Eat more potassium-rich foods

Potassium is an important mineral.

It helps your body get rid of sodium and eases pressure on your blood vessels.

Modern diets have increased most people’s sodium intake while decreasing potassium intake.

To get a better balance of potassium to sodium in your diet, focus on eating fewer processed foods and more fresh, whole foods.

Foods that are particularly high in potassium include:

  • vegetables, especially leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
  • fruit, including melons, bananas, avocados, oranges, and apricots
  • dairy, such as milk and yogurt
  • tuna and salmon
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans

Bottom line: Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium, can help lower blood pressure.

5. Cut back on caffeine

If you’ve ever downed a cup of coffee before you’ve had your blood pressure taken, you’ll know that caffeine causes an instant boost.

However, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that drinking caffeine regularly can cause a lasting increase.

In fact, people who drink caffeinated coffee and tea tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, than those who don’t drink it.

Caffeine may have a stronger effect on people who don’t consume it regularly.

If you suspect you’re caffeine-sensitive, cut back to see if it lowers your blood pressure.

Bottom line: Caffeine can cause a short-term spike in blood pressure, although for many people, it does not cause a lasting increase.

6. Learn to manage stress

Stress is a key driver of high blood pressure.

When you’re chronically stressed, your body is in a constant fight-or-flight mode. On a physical level, that means a faster heart rate and constricted blood vessels.

When you experience stress, you might also be more likely to engage in other behaviors, such as drinking alcohol or eating unhealthful food that can adversely affect blood pressure.

Several studies have explored how reducing stress can help lower blood pressure. Here are two evidence-based tips to try:

  • Listen to soothing music: Calming music can help relax your nervous system. Research has shown it’s an effective complement to other blood pressure therapies.
  • Work less: Working a lot, and stressful work situations, in general, are linked to high blood pressure.

Bottom line: Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Finding ways to manage stress can help.

7. Eat dark chocolate or cocoa

Here’s a piece of advice you can really get behind.

While eating massive amounts of dark chocolate probably won’t help your heart, small amounts may.

That’s because dark chocolate and cocoa powder are rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds that cause blood vessels to dilate.

A review of studies found that flavonoid-rich cocoa improved several markers of heart health over the short term, including lowering blood pressure.

For the strongest effects, use non-alkalized cocoa powder, which is especially high in flavonoids and has no added sugars.

Bottom line: Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain plant compounds that help relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.

8. Lose weight

In people with overweight, losing weight can make a big difference to heart health.

According to a 2016 study, losing 5% of your body mass could significantly lower high blood pressure.

In previous studies, losing 17.64 pounds (8 kilograms) was linked to lowering systolic blood pressure by 8.5 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 6.5 mm Hg.

To put that in perspective, a healthy reading should be less than 120/80 mm Hg.

The effect is even greater when weight loss is paired with exercise.

Losing weight can help your blood vessels do a better job of expanding and contracting, making it easier for the left ventricle of the heart to pump blood.

Bottom line: Losing weight can significantly lower high blood pressure. This effect is even more significant when you exercise.

9. Quit smoking

Among the many reasons to quit smoking is that the habit is a strong risk factor for heart disease.

Every puff of cigarette smoke causes a slight, temporary increase in blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco are also known to damage blood vessels.

Surprisingly, studies haven’t found a conclusive link between smoking and high blood pressure. Perhaps this is because smokers develop a tolerance over time.

Still, since both smoking and high blood pressure raise the risk of heart disease, quitting smoking can help lessen that risk.

Bottom line: There’s conflicting research about smoking and high blood pressure, but what is clear is that both increase the risk of heart disease.

10. Cut added sugar and refined carbs

There’s a growing body of research showing a link between added sugar and high blood pressure.

In the Framingham Women’s Health Study, women who drank even one soda per day had higher levels than those who drank less than one soda per day.

Another study found that having one less sugar-sweetened beverage per day was linked to lower blood pressure.

And it’s not just sugar — all refined carbs, such as the kind found in white flour — convert rapidly to sugar in your bloodstream and may cause problems.

Some studies have shown that low carb diets may also help reduce blood pressure.

One study on people undergoing statin therapy found that those who went on a 6-week, carb-restricted diet saw a greater improvement in blood pressure and other heart disease markers than people who did not restrict carbs.

Bottom line: Refined carbs, especially sugar, may raise blood pressure. Some studies have shown that low carb diets may help reduce your levels.

11. Eat berries

Berries are full of more than just juicy flavor.

They’re also packed with polyphenols, natural plant compounds that are good for your heart.

Polyphenols can reduce the risk of stroke, heart conditions, and diabetes, as well as improving blood pressure, insulin resistance, and systemic inflammation.

One study assigned people with high blood pressure to a low-polyphenol diet or a high-polyphenol diet containing berries, chocolate, fruits, and vegetables.

Those consuming berries and polyphenol-rich foods experienced improved markers of heart disease risk.

Bottom line: Berries are rich in polyphenols, which can help lower blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease.

12. Try meditation or deep breathing

While these two behaviors could also fall under “stress reduction techniques,” meditation and deep breathing deserve specific mention.

Both meditation and deep breathing may activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is engaged when the body relaxes, slowing the heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.

There’s quite a bit of research in this area, with studies showing that different styles of meditation appear to have benefits for lowering blood pressure.

Deep breathing techniques can also be quite effective.

In one study, participants were asked to either take six deep breaths over the course of 30 seconds or simply sit still for 30 seconds. Those who took breaths lowered their blood pressure more than those who just sat.

Try guided meditation or deep breathing. Here’s a video to get you started.

Bottom line: Both meditation and deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure.

13. Eat calcium-rich foods

People with low calcium intake often have high blood pressure.

While calcium supplements haven’t been conclusively shown to lower blood pressure, calcium-rich diets do seem linked to healthful levels.

For most adults, the calcium recommendation is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. For women over 50 and men over 70, it’s 1,200 mg per day.

In addition to dairy, you can get calcium from collard greens and other leafy greens, beans, sardines, and tofu. Here is a list of calcium-rich plant-based foods.

Bottom line: Calcium-rich diets are linked to healthy blood pressure levels. You can get calcium through eating dark leafy greens and tofu, as well as dairy.

14. Take natural supplements

Some natural supplements may also help lower blood pressure. Here are some of the main supplements that have evidence behind them:

  • Aged garlic extract: Researchers have used aged garlic extract successfully as a stand-alone treatment and along with conventional therapies for lowering blood pressure.
  • Berberine: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, berberine may increase nitric oxide production, which helps decrease blood pressure.
  • Whey protein: A 2016 study found that whey protein improved blood pressure and blood vessel function in 38 participants.
  • Fish oil: Long credited with improving heart health, fish oil may benefit people with high blood pressure the most.
  • Hibiscus: Hibiscus flowers make a tasty tea. They’re rich in anthocyanins and polyphenols that are good for your heart and may lower blood pressure.

Bottom line: Researchers have investigated several natural supplements for their ability to lower blood pressure.

15. Eat foods rich in magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral that helps blood vessels relax.

While magnesium deficiency is pretty rare, many people don’t get enough.

Some studies have suggested that getting too little magnesium is linked with high blood pressure, but evidence from clinical studies has been less clear.

Still, eating a magnesium-rich diet is a recommended way to ward off high blood pressure.

You can incorporate magnesium into your diet by consuming vegetables, dairy products, legumes, chicken, meat, and whole grains.

Bottom line: Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Find it in whole foods, such as legumes and whole grains.

Take home message

High blood pressure affects a large proportion of the world’s population.

While drugs are one way to treat the condition, there are many other natural techniques, including eating certain foods that can help.

Controlling your blood pressure through the methods in this article may, ultimately, help you lower your risk of heart disease

All you need to know about flu

Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness that results from a viral infection. Flu is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets. A person can pass it on while talking or through physical contact, such as shaking hands.

Influenza A and influenza B cause seasonal epidemics in the United States and elsewhere every winter. Type C usually causes mild respiratory illness.

Some strains of influenza A, such as the H5N1 “bird flu” virus, occasionally infect humans, causing serious illness. Experts track these strains carefully, as they try to predict how they will change, and how they might affect people.

Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with flu may experience:

  • a high temperature that lasts 3–4 days
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • cold sweats and shivers
  • aches that may be severe
  • a headache
  • fatigue

Not everyone with flu will have all of these symptoms. For instance, it is possible to have flu without a fever.

The symptoms of influenza typically come on suddenly. Initially, a person with flu may experience:

  • a high temperature
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • a dry cough
  • cold sweats and shivers
  • aches that may be severe
  • a headache
  • fatigue, and a feeling of being unwell
  • a low appetite

Flu symptoms in adults

Adults with the following symptoms should seek medical help urgently:

  • breathing difficulties
  • pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • dizziness, confusion, or loss of alertness
  • seizures
  • not urinating, which may indicate dehydration
  • severe pain, weakness, and unsteadiness
  • a fever or cough that goes away and then comes back
  • a worsening of other existing health conditions

Flu symptoms in children

Children often have similar symptoms to adults but can also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If a child has the following symptoms, they need emergency medical care:

  • breathing difficulties
  • rapid breathing
  • bluish face or lips
  • chest pain or ribs pulling inward as they breathe
  • severe aches
  • dehydration, for example, not urinating for 8 hours and crying dry tears
  • lack of alertness or interaction with others
  • a fever above 104°F or any fever in a child under 12 weeks of age
  • a fever or cough that goes away but then comes back
  • a worsening of any other medical conditions

Should children have flu medication? Find out more here about Tamiflu and its effects on children.

Flu symptoms in babies

Flu can be dangerous for babies. If symptoms appear, a parent or caregiver should seek medical help.

A baby with flu may:

  • be very tired
  • have a cough and sore throat
  • have a stuffy or runny nose
  • have a fever of 100°F or more
  • have vomiting or diarrhea

The baby needs emergency medical attention if they:

  • do not want anyone to hold them
  • have a blue or gray skin color
  • are breathing fast or have difficulty breathing
  • have a fever with a rash
  • have symptoms that go away but come back again
  • show signs of dehydration, for example, not urinating
  • do not wake up or interact
  • have severe and persistent vomiting

Flu type A symptoms

If a person has the following symptoms, they may have influenza type A:

  • fever and chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • a sore throat and cough

Flu type B symptoms

Influenza B symptoms are similar to those of influenza A.

Treatment

Most people will be able to treat the flu at home. A combination of lifestyle remedies and over-the-counter medication can help relieve symptoms.

Pain relief medication can help manage a headache and body pains. A healthcare professional can recommend the best options.

Some painkillers, such as aspirin, are not suitable for children under 16 years of age. The use of aspirin at this age can lead to a condition known as Reye’s syndrome.

Flu home remedies

When a person has flu, it is essential that they:

  • stay at home
  • avoid contact with other people if possible
  • keep warm and rest
  • consume plenty of liquids and healthful foods
  • avoid alcohol
  • stop smoking, as this raises the risk of complications

Other things people can try at home include:

  • chicken broth
  • herbal teas
  • vitamin supplements

However, there is not enough evidence available to confirm that consuming these helps.

Flu diagnosis

If a person seeks medical advice for flu symptoms, a doctor will likely ask about their symptoms and do a physical examination. A doctor may also take a throat swab for testing.

The rapid influenza diagnostic test can produce results in 10–15 minutes but may not be accurate. Other, more accurate tests can take longer to give results.

Flu or a cold?

People often confuse the flu with a bad cold, as some symptoms are similar.

A cold and the flu both involve:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • a sore throat
  • a cough
  • chest discomfort
  • fatigue

However, there are some differences:

  • A cold does not involve a fever, while the flu usually does.
  • The symptoms of a cold tend to appear gradually, while flu symptoms can develop rapidly.
  • Cold symptoms are typically less severe than those of flu.
  • After having the flu, a person may continue to feel tired for several weeks.
  • Flu is more likely to lead to complications, and it can be life threatening.

Flu or food poisoning?

There are many types of viruses, and some can affect the digestive system. People sometimes call this “stomach flu.” This illness is different from influenza, which is a respiratory disease.

The most common cause of “stomach flu” is the norovirus, which enters the body through contaminated food or drink. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food poisoning causes similar symptoms.

Flu or pneumonia?

Pneumonia can be bacterial or viral. The symptoms can resemble those of flu, but an individual may have a sharp, stabbing pain in the chest, especially when they breathe deeply or cough.

Bacterial pneumonia can start slowly or suddenly. Symptoms can include:

  • a very high temperature
  • sweating
  • rapid breathing and pulse rate
  • blue nailbeds due to a lack of oxygen

Symptoms of viral pneumonia are similar to those of the flu. They include:

  • fever
  • dry cough
  • headache
  • aches and weakness

However, unlike the flu, symptoms of pneumonia usually develop gradually. Anyone who has a high fever and breathing difficulties should see a doctor immediately.

When is flu season?

People can have the flu at any time, but it is more common during the flu season. The timing and duration of the flu season change from year to year, but it usually happens around fall and winter.

Flu activity often starts to increase in October, and it can last as late as May. However, it is most common from December to February.

Prevention

The flu shot can help prevent flu, but it is not 100% effective. People should follow lifestyle measures to reduce their risk.

Lifestyle tips for avoiding flu

Tips for avoiding infection include:

  • practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand washing
  • keeping the immune system strong by following a healthful diet
  • quitting or avoiding smoking, as smokers are more likely to develop complications
  • staying away from people who have the flu

People should also stay away from others when they have the flu to avoid spreading it themselves.

Contagiousness

The flu virus transmits through droplets of liquid. A person can pass the virus on to another person who is up to 6 feet away from them when they cough, sneeze, talk, or breathe.

A healthy individual can pass on the virus a day before they, themselves, have symptoms. In other words, it is possible to pass on the flu before you know you have it. The infected individual can continue to transmit the virus for up to 5–7 days after symptoms appear.

People with a weakened immune system, older people, and young children may be able to pass on the virus for longer than this.

Flu is most contagious in the first 3–4 days after symptoms appear.

Transmission

A person can develop flu symptoms if droplets that contain the virus and come from the breath of another person enter their mouth, nose, or lungs.

This transmission can happen if:

  • Someone without the virus is near a person with flu.
  • Someone who is virus free handles an object a person with the virus has touched and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Research shows that just breathing can spread the flu virus. 

Incubation period

The incubation period of a disease is the time it takes from when the virus infects a person to when the symptoms start.

For flu, this is around 2 days, but it can vary from 1 to 4 days.

A person can transmit the virus even before symptoms appear.

Flu when pregnant

Flu can be more serious during pregnancy, as pregnancy affects how the immune system works. If a woman is pregnant and has flu, they may need to spend time in the hospital.

Pregnancy-related complications include a higher risk of:

  • preterm birth
  • low birth weight
  • stillbirth

Flu can be fatal for newborns. Risks to the mother include a greater chance of having complications, such as bronchitis, ear and blood infections.

How long does it last?

Flu symptoms appear suddenly, usually around 2 days after infection. Most symptoms disappear after about 1 week, but a cough may last for up to 2 weeks.

In some cases, a person may still be contagious for up to 1 week after their symptoms have disappeared.

If complications develop, these can take longer to resolve. Some of the more severe types of complications can have a long term impact on a person’s health, for example, kidney failure.

Some people experience post-viral fatigue for a week or so after the main symptoms disappear. They may have a lingering sense of tiredness and feeling unwell.

Timeline

Typically, flu may progress as follows:

  • The virus infects a person, usually through their nose or mouth.
  • After one day, they may be able to transmit the virus to others.
  • Symptoms appear 1–2 days after infection.
  • The chance of transmitting the virus is highest 3–4 days after symptoms appear.
  • After 4 days, the fever and muscle aches improve.
  • After 1 week, most symptoms disappear.
  • The risk of transmitting the virus disappears 5–7 days after symptoms appear.
  • The cough and tiredness may remain for a further week.

Precautions

The flu is not usually serious, but it is unpleasant. For some people, however, complications can arise. Some of these can be life threatening.

Complications include:

  • bacterial pneumonia
  • dehydration
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes
  • sinus problems and ear infections

The risk of experiencing severe symptoms and flu complications is higher in the following cases:

  • adults over 65 years of age
  • babies or young children
  • pregnant women
  • people with heart or cardiovascular disease
  • individuals with chest problems, such as asthma or bronchitis
  • people with kidney disease or diabetes
  • individuals who are taking steroids
  • people undergoing treatment for cancer
  • anyone with a weakened immune system

Flu shot

The single best way to prevent flu is to have a flu vaccination every year.

There are two types of vaccination:

The flu shot: A healthcare professional will administer the flu shot with a needle, usually in the arm. It is suitable for anyone older than 6 months, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions.

The nasal-spray flu vaccine: The nasal-spray flu vaccine contains live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause illness.

Seasonal flu shot

A flu shot will contain the vaccine for several influenza viruses, according to the CDC.

Examples include:

  • influenza A (H1N1) virus
  • influenza (H3N2) virus
  • one or two influenza B viruses

However, viruses adapt and change over time, and scientists may need to adjust the content of the vaccines each year.

Data from international surveillance programs help experts predict which types are likely to circulate in a given flu season. Protection begins about 2 weeks after receiving the vaccination.

Seasonal flu vaccinations should start in September or as soon as the vaccine is ready. They continue throughout the flu season, into January and beyond.

Flu shot side effects

The CDC note that the flu vaccine has a good safety record, and it cannot cause flu.

A person may experience the following adverse effects after having a vaccine, but these will be mild and usually pass within a few days.

  • pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site
  • headache
  • fever
  • nausea
  • muscle aches

Around 1–2 people in every 1 million may develop a condition known as Guillain-Barr syndrome (GBS). However, people can also develop GBS after having flu, and the risk of this is higher than with the vaccine. The risk of developing GBS may be lower with the nasal spray version of the vaccine.

If someone experiences hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing after any vaccine, they should seek immediate medical help as these may be the sign of an allergic reaction. A severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.

People who have previously had an allergic reaction to a vaccine should not have the flu shot.

Flu shot pregnancy

It is safe to have the flu shot during pregnancy, and doctors recommend it. It takes about 2 weeks to provide protection. The vaccine will also pass through to the fetus and give them some protection from the flu.

Newborns cannot have a flu vaccine, but having flu can be dangerous for them. Having the vaccine can benefit both the mother and her unborn child.

Flu shot effectiveness

The flu shot cannot offer 100% protection from the flu as scientists cannot predict precisely what flu types will circulate during a season.

CDC figures from 2018–2019 show that the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing influenza A or B was about 47%.

Many factors can contribute to the effectiveness of the flu shot from year to year. These can include the age and overall health of the person receiving the vaccination, plus how well the vaccine matches the prevalent viruses.

Flu shot for seniors

The CDC recommend a flu shot for people aged 65 years or more. As people get older, they are more likely to develop complications if they have flu.

Older people may need a higher dose of vaccine, as their immune systems may be less able to resist the flu virus. The vaccine cannot provide complete protection but will reduce the risk of flu and the severity of complications.

A 2017 study looked at data for older people in hospital with the flu during the flu season 2013–2014 in the U.S. Among those who had received the vaccine, there were lower rates of fatality, fewer complications, and less overall time spent in an intensive care unit.

People who are 65 years of age or older should ask their doctor about the vaccine at the start of each flu season. The doctor will recommend a vaccine that suits the individual.

Flu shot cost

The cost of a flu shot in the private sector is around $15–$24, depending on the type.

People should check their insurance policies to find out their cover. Medicare part B, for example, provide for one flu shot every flu season.

When to see a doctor

A doctor only needs to know that a person has the flu if:

  • they are already frail or have an existing health condition
  • they have a weakened immune system
  • they are infants or aged 65 years or over
  • their temperature remains high after 4–5 days
  • symptoms worsen or are severe
  • they become short of breath, develop chest pain, or both

However, anyone who has concerns about their symptoms should speak to their doctor for further advice.