My Parents Are Vaccinated but I’m Not. Is It Safe for Us to Visit?

There’s no zero-risk activity while the virus is still circulating. But older adults who have been vaccinated should feel more confident in taking part in activities with people who are considered low-risk. 

For older adults who have been isolated from family and friends for the better part of a year to stay safe from the coronavirus, the emergency authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines offers some light at the end of the tunnel.

While the vaccine certainly offers more protection, experts caution it’ll still take some time before life returns to normal.

That includes what visits with loved ones will look like.

It’s exciting for people who have been vaccinated to think about resuming those things again, but we’re still not out of the woods yet.

As the United States continues its vaccine rollout, people over the age of 75, along with frontline essential workers, are being prioritized to receive the shot after healthcare personnel and nursing home residents.

In the next phase, people 65 to 74 and adults with underlying health conditions will be offered the vaccine.

This will put many families in a situation where older adults are vaccinated, but their children and grandchildren aren’t.

Healthline spoke with medical experts to see how families should go about visiting loved ones safely in these situations.

The risk is not zero

Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, said that while the vaccine is moving the country in the right direction, “we are not in a zero risk situation and a few things need to happen before we get down to even a minimal risk situation.”

Those things include getting most of the population vaccinated and getting community transmission of COVID-19 under control.

“We are still at levels well above what we saw during the summer surge in most places,” said Kelley, who’s also a principal investigator for the Moderna and Novavax phase 3 vaccine clinical trials at the Ponce de Leon clinical research site.

Both she and Factora said it’ll be well into 2021 before we get to this point.

Until then, the same protective measures that have been in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, mask wearing, and good hand hygiene, should continue to be practiced when visiting loved ones.

“Today in February, I would do the same things I was doing in December,” Kelley said. “Visit outdoors wherever possible. If you’re indoors, be masked. We still need to keep any gatherings very small and limited as much as possible.”

One reason for this is that whichever vaccine an individual gets, it won’t be 100 percent effective. “Even with 94 or 95 percent efficacy with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, you still have that risk,” Factora said.

At the rate at which the virus is spreading across the country, even that 5 percent chance can still be risky.

“Even though the vaccine protects you, there’s still that risk that you’ll contract it and for older adults, you’re still going to be at higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death compared to the rest of the population,” Factora said.

It’s also not known yet how well the vaccine is going to protect against emergent variants of the virus that are more contagious.

“That’s something scientists are studying, but it’s going to take some time to figure out,” Factora said.

What activities are safe for older adults who have been vaccinated?

There’s no zero-risk activity while the virus is still circulating. But older adults who have been vaccinated should feel more confident in taking part in activities with people who are considered low-risk.

“Particularly outdoor activities and particularly gatherings that are small, if you’re seeing family members who are not vaccinated but are still practicing social distancing and mask wearing,” Factora said, “you should feel safer because you now have an added protection with the vaccine.”

However, there’s an added complication for many families: The vaccine hasn’t been authorized for use in children.

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for people 16 and older, while the Moderna vaccine has been authorized for people 18 and older.

“There’s no time soon where we expect our children to be vaccinated,” Kelley said.

This may be of particular concern when it comes to older children and teenagers who are more likely to have larger social circles.

“In these instances, I think it’s a good idea for older adults to ask questions before a visit about where their grandkids have been over the last 10 days,” Factora said.

“If they’ve been keeping to themselves during that time and haven’t had symptoms, then you’re at lower risk of getting something because you’re outside the window where risk of transmission is highest,” he said.

Factora added: “If you can prepare for planned events by asking these questions and again keep the visits outdoors and limited, I think that’s a safe way for grandparents to see their grandkids.”

Experts said that once everyone in your social bubble has been vaccinated, the risk of COVID-19 transmission goes down.

While this may take a while for families with multiple generations, older adults should feel more comfortable about spending time with peers of the same age who have also been vaccinated.

“If you get vaccinated and the people within your bubble get vaccinated, you should have greater confidence that you’ll be less likely to contract COVID-19,” Factora said.

“This is great for many older adults in independent or assisted living facilities,” he said. “Engaging in social activities like card games and common dinners with friends and neighbors who have also been vaccinated, this should give you a better sense of safety.”

Until more of the population is vaccinated and community transmission goes down, older adults should still stay away from closed indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated.

“Bars, restaurants, crowded rooms, places where there’s lots of people — these are circumstances that are still considered highest risk that should be avoided,” Factora said.

13 COVID-19 vaccine myths


Of all the modern medical interventions we have at our disposal, few have been victim to as much falsehood as vaccines. As the world battles a pandemic, stripping the truth from the lies is more urgent than ever.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2010 and 2015, vaccines prevented an estimated 10 million deaths.

Scientists have worked tirelessly to create safe and effective vaccines to protect us against SARS-CoV-2. Now, as many governments roll out COVID-19 vaccines, scientists and medical experts are facing a new challenge: misinformation and associated vaccine hesitancy.

Some anti-vaxxers — individuals who believe vaccines cause a range of medical ills — dedicate their entire lives to railing against vaccines. In reality, vaccines have saved lives of millions of people.

Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new and, in many ways, perfectly reasonable. For instance, misinformation about the vaccines’ safety and potential effects on the body is rife on the internet. Also, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed unusually swiftly and use relatively new technology.

Today, a significant percentage of the United States population, and the world at large, are nervous to take a shot that could save their lives.

In this article, we tackle some of the most common myths associated with the COVID-19 vaccines. Although it will not convince dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxers, we hope that this information will prove useful for those who are hesitant.

1. The vaccines are not safe, because they were developed so fast

It is true that scientists developed the COVID-19 vaccines faster than any other vaccine to date — under 1 year. The previous record breaker was the mumps vaccine, which was developed in 4 years.

There are a number of reasons the COVID-19 vaccines were developed more quickly, none of which reduces its safety profile.

For instance, scientists were not starting from scratch. Although SARS-CoV-2 was new to science, researchers have been studying coronaviruses for decades.

Also, because COVID-19 has touched every continent on earth, the process of vaccine development involved an unprecedented worldwide collaboration. And, while many scientific endeavors face funding difficulties, COVID-19 researchers received funding from a wide range of sponsors.

Another factor that slows vaccine development is recruiting volunteers. In the case of COVID-19, there was no shortage of people who wanted to help.

Also, under normal circumstances, clinical trials are run sequentially. But in this instance, scientists could run some trials simultaneously, which saved a great deal of time.

These factors and more meant that the vaccine could be developed swiftly without compromising safety.

In short: identifying the virus was quicker; we already had experience with similar pathogens; technology has moved on since the 1980s; every government on earth had a vested interest; and there were few financial restraints.

2. The vaccine will alter my DNA

Some COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. These vaccines work differently to traditional types of vaccine.

Classical vaccines introduce an inactivated pathogen or part of a pathogen to the body to “teach” it how to produce an immune response.

By contrast, an mRNA vaccine delivers the instructions for making a pathogen’s protein to our cells. Once the protein is created, the immune system responds to it, priming it to respond to future attacks by the same pathogen.

However, the mRNA does not hang around in the body, and it is not integrated into our DNA. Once it has provided the instructions, the cell breaks it down.

In fact, the mRNA will not even reach the cell’s nucleus, which is where our DNA is housed.

3. COVID-19 vaccines can give you COVID-19

The COVID-19 vaccines cannot give an individual COVID-19. Regardless of the type of vaccine, none contains the live virus. Any side effects, such as headache or chills, are due to the immune response and not an infection.

4. The vaccine contains a microchip

A YouGov poll conducted in the U.S. last year asked 1,640 people a range of questions about COVID-19. An incredible 28% of respondents believe that Bill Gates plans to use the COVID-19 vaccinations as a vehicle to implant microchips into the population.

According to some, this microchip will allow shadowy elites to track their every move. In reality, our mobile phones already complete that task effortlessly.

There is no evidence that any of the COVID-19 vaccines contains a microchip.

Although the specifics vary from conspiracy theory to conspiracy theory, some believe that the vaccine contains radio-frequency identification tags. These consist of a radio transponder, radio receiver, and transmitter. It is not possible to shrink these components to a size small enough to fit through the end of a needle.

5. COVID-19 vaccines can make you infertile

There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines impact fertility. Similarly, there is no evidence that they will endanger future pregnancies.

This rumor began because of a link between the spike protein that is coded by the mRNA-based vaccines and a protein called syncytin-1. Syncytin-1 is vital for the placenta to remain attached to the uterus during pregnancy.

However, although the spike protein does share a few amino acids in common with syncytin-1, they are not even nearly similar enough to confuse the immune system.

The rumor appears to have begun courtesy of Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg. In December of last year, he petitioned the European Medicines Agency to halt COVID-19 vaccine trials in the European Union. Among his concerns was the syncytin-1 “issue” mentioned above.

Dr. Wodarg has a history of skepticism toward vaccines and has downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Wodarg and the former vice president and chief scientist of Pfizer Inc. pharmaceuticals joined voices to make claims about the vaccine producing infertility, thus stoking widespread fears.

However, there is no evidence that any COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility.

6. The COVID-19 vaccine contains fetal tissue

Over the years, anti-vaxxers have spread rumors that vaccines contain fetal tissue. Neither the COVID-19 vaccines nor any other vaccine contains any tissue from fetuses.

As Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, told the BBC, “There are no fetal cells used in any vaccine production process.”

7. People who have had COVID-19 do not need the vaccine

Even people who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the past should be vaccinated. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) write:

“Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, [a] vaccine should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had [a SARS-CoV-2] infection.”

There is also a chance that the initial test produced a false positive — in other words, the test was positive, but there was no viral infection. For this reason, it is better to err on the side of caution.

8. After receiving the vaccine, you cannot transmit the virus

COVID-19 vaccines are designed to prevent people from becoming ill following a SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, a person who has been vaccinated may still be able to carry the virus, which means that they might also be able to transmit it.

Because scientists do not yet know whether the vaccines will prevent infection, once a person has been vaccinated, they should continue to wear a mask in public, wash their hands, and practice physical distancing as recommended by regional authorities.

9. Once I have been vaccinated, I can resume a normal life

Unfortunately, for the reasons mentioned above, this is not true.

10. The vaccine will protect against COVID-19 for life

Because scientists have only been studying the virus for around 1 year, we do not know how long immunity will last. According to the WHO:

“It’s too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term protection. […] However, it’s encouraging that available data suggest that most people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides at least some period of protection against reinfection — although we’re still learning how strong this protection is and how long it lasts.”

It may be that we will need to have an annual COVID-19 shot, in the same way that we do with the flu shot.

11. People with preexisting conditions cannot take the vaccine

This is untrue. People with most preexisting conditions — including heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease — can take a COVID-19 vaccine. However, if anyone is concerned, it is always advisable to speak with a doctor.

In fact, because preexisting conditions, such as obesity and heart disease, can increase the risk of developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms, being vaccinated is even more important for people with preexisting health issues.

There is an exception: individuals who are allergic to any of the components of the vaccine should not have the shot. Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to any vaccine in the past should speak with their doctor.

However, the CDC recommend “that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications — such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies — get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.”

12. People with compromised immune systems cannot have the vaccine

Because the vaccine does not contain a live pathogen, it will not cause an infection. Therefore, individuals who have a compromised immune system can still take the vaccine. However, they may not build up immune protection to the same degree as someone with a fully functioning immune system.

The CDC also explain that few people who have a compromised immune system were involved in the vaccine trials:

“Immunocompromised individuals may receive [a] COVID-19 vaccination if they have no contraindications to vaccination. However, they should be counseled about the unknown vaccine safety profile and effectiveness in immunocompromised populations.”

13. Older adults cannot have the vaccine

This is a myth. Currently, in most countries where officials are rolling out the vaccine, older adults are being prioritized, as they are most at risk of severe illness.

Also, some of the clinical trials had specific subgroups that included older adults to check the vaccine’s safety in this population.

In Norway, 23 frail older adults died shortly after they received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This, perhaps, helps explain why this myth is gaining traction.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA) are currently investigating the situation. Steinar Madsen, a medical director at NOMA, believes that common adverse reactions, such as fever, nausea, and diarrhea, “may aggravate underlying disease in the elderly.”

Madsen also explained that “these are very rare occurrences, and they occurred in very frail patients with very serious disease.” He went on to add,

“We are now asking for doctors to continue with the vaccination but to carry out extra evaluation of very sick people whose underlying condition might be aggravated by it.”

The take-home

It is hard to believe that not much more than 1 year ago, COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 were entirely unknown. Now, we have a number of viable, effective, and safe vaccines.

In this internet-fueled era, rumors grow and spread like wildfire. The addition of a significant dose of fear and anxiety provides the perfect petri dish in which to grow stubborn, dangerous myths.

The situation and the science are moving quickly, and the best advice is to ensure that you always take information from reliable sources and do not pay attention to powerful but misleading social media posts.

Learn how to tell if someone has COVID-19 or the flu here.

COVID-19 and the flu can cause similar symptoms. However, there are several differences between them.

The novel strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19).

Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses that spread from person to person. This article will discuss the differences between COVID-19 and the flu.

Symptoms

The symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 have some differences.

People who have the flu will typically experience symptoms within 1–4 days. The symptoms for COVID-19 can develop between 1–14 days. However, according to 2020 research, the median incubation period for COVID-19 is 5.1 days.

As a point of comparison, the incubation period for a cold is 1–3 days.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in both children and adults. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children typically present with fever and mild, cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose and a cough.

The following table outlines the symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, and a cold.

Severity and mortality

The symptoms of COVID-19 and flu can range from mild to severe. Both can also cause pneumonia.

It is important to note that the World Health Organization (WHO) have classified mild symptoms of COVID-19 to mean that a person will not require hospitalization. The WHO classify mild cases to consist of symptoms including:

  • fever
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • sore throat
  • headache

The CDC also lists the following as potential symptoms:

  • breathlessness
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • new loss of taste or smell

According to the WHO, around 15% of COVID-19 cases are severe, and 5% are critical. Those in a critical state require a ventilator to breathe. The chance of severe and critical infection is higher with COVID-19 than the flu.

COVID-19 is also more deadly. According to the WHO, the mortality rate for COVID-19 appears to be higher than that of the flu.

Compared with the flu, research on COVID-19 is still in its early stages. These estimates may change over time.

Transmission

Both SARS-CoV-2 and the flu virus can spread through person to person contact.

Tiny droplets containing the viruses can pass from someone with the infection to someone else, typically through the nose and mouth through coughing and sneezing.

The virus can also live on surfaces. The WHO is not sure exactly how long the virus can survive, but it could be days.

According to the CDC, people can transmit the flu virus to people who are 6 feet (ft) away. According to the WHO, people should stay at least 6 ft away from anyone coughing or sneezing to help prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 infection.

According to the WHO, the speed of transmission differs between the two viruses. The symptoms of flu appear sooner, and it can spread faster than the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The organization also indicate that people with flu can pass the virus on before they show any symptoms. A person can also pass on the SARS-CoV-2 infection even if they have no symptoms.

There are also differences in transmission between children and adults.

According to the WHO, the transmission of the flu from children to adults is common. However, based on early data it appears that it is more common for adults to pass the SARS-CoV-2 infection onto children. Children are less likely to develop symptoms.

The CDC recommend that people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. People should wear cloth face masks while continuing to practice physical distancing. 

Treatment

As flu has been around much longer than COVID-19, there are more treatment options.

Most people with the flu do not require medical treatment. But a doctor might prescribe antiviral drugs in some cases, which can reduce the symptoms by 1–2 days.

These antiviral drugs help the body fight the virus. They treat symptoms and reduce how long the illness lasts.

There are currently no antiviral drugs approved to treat COVID-19, although scientists are currently researching drugs in trials. When scientists have had more time to study the disease, the availability of antivirals to treat COVID-19 will likely increase.

Although there is currently no approved treatment or vaccination for COVID-19, there are ways to help treat the symptoms and any complications that can occur.

For mild cases, a person should remain home and undertake social distancing. Healthcare professionals may prescribe antipyretics to reduce the fever.

For more severe cases, a person may require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation on a breathing machine to treat the respiratory problems that may occur.

Prevention

The most effective way of preventing the flu is through vaccination.

Many strains of influenza can cause infection. The most common strains vary depending on the season.

Doctors will try to predict what strains will be most common each season to select the right vaccine components.

The best way to prevent spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus includes:

  • washing hands regularly
  • avoiding touching the face
  • keeping at least 6 ft away from anyone sneezing and coughing
  • covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • staying at home if feeling unwell
  • working from home if possible
  • avoiding crowds and gatherings of any size

Causes

Both COVID-19 and the flu are viral infections.

Viruses are tiny microbes that survive by invading other living cells. These cells become host cells to the virus, which multiplies inside of them. They can then spread to new cells around the body.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. The SARS-CoV-2 causes the infection that leads to COVID-19.

There are two types of viruses that cause the flu — influenza A and B. There are also several subtypes of influenza A. Any of these viruses can cause the flu.

Summary

COVID-19 and flu share some similar symptoms. The symptoms of flu tend to occur faster and can have greater variation. But COVID-19 is more likely to lead to severe illness or death.

Both viruses spread via person to person contact. Flu spreads faster and is more likely to affect children.

As the flu has been around longer, there are several effective antiviral treatments and vaccines available. Researchers and scientists are developing these for COVID-19, but treatments and vaccines are not likely to be available soon.

The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to practice social distancing, which means avoiding any non-essential social contact or travel. It is essential to maintain good personal and domestic hygiene by washing the hands regularly and keeping surfaces and utensils clean.

Viral infections cause both COVID-19 and the flu. But COVID-19 is due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and flu is from influenza A and B viruses.

How do COVID-19 vaccines compare with other existing vaccines?

The novelty of the COVID-19 vaccines may seem daunting for some, and it is natural for questions to arise on their effectiveness. In this feature, we examine the difference between effectiveness and efficacy, compare the COVID-19 frontrunner vaccines to other vaccines, such as the flu shot, and compare their safety considerations.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Pfizer/BioNTech roll out their COVID-19 vaccine throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, the world wonders how effective it will be.

Looking at the three leading vaccines that we have previously reported on, Pfizer/BioNTech boasts 95% efficacy, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate has an average of 70% efficacy, while the Moderna vaccine candidate reportedly has 94.1% efficacy.

Effectiveness vs. efficacy — what is the difference?

Firstly, it is worth noting that “effectiveness” and “efficacy” are not the same. Despite news outlets frequently using them interchangeably, efficacy refers to how a vaccine performs under ideal lab conditions, such as those in a clinical trial. In contrast, effectiveness refers to how it performs in the real world.

In other words, in a clinical trial, a 90% efficacy means that there are 90% fewer cases of disease in the group receiving the vaccine compared with the placebo group.

However, the participants chosen for a clinical trial tend to be healthier and younger than those in the general population, and they generally have no underlying conditions. Furthermore, researchers do not normally include certain groups in these studies, such as children or pregnant people.

So, while a vaccine can prevent disease in a trial, we might see this effectiveness drop when administered to the wider population.

However, that is not in itself a bad thing.

Pfizer study shows vaccine effective against new variant

Scientists recently identified two new strains of SARS-CoV-2 — one of which had been discovered in the United Kingdom and the other in South Africa. A new Pfizer study concludes that its vaccine should be effective against the U.K. variant.

Both new variants, which appear to be more contagious, have mutations in a spike protein called N501Y. 

Because most vaccines currently under investigation essentially teach the immune system to respond to the spike proteins, some people have questioned whether the vaccines will be effective against the variants. 

The new study, which appears on a preprint server, is a combined effort from Pfizer and scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The researchers analyzed blood samples from 20 people who had received the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine during previous clinical trials. 

They demonstrated that antibodies from vaccine recipients successfully fought off a virus with the N501Y mutation. The study has limitations, though. For instance, the variant first identified in South Africa has an additional mutation known as E484K, which the new study did not address. 

Importantly, the study has also not yet been peer-reviewed. Meanwhile, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Philip Dormitzer, acknowledges:

“It was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem.”

The authors of the preprint conclude: “The ongoing evolution of SARS-CoV-2 necessitates continuous monitoring of the significance of changes for vaccine coverage. This surveillance is accompanied by preparations for the possibility that a future mutation in SARS-CoV-2 might necessitate a vaccine strain change. Such a vaccine update would be facilitated by the flexibility of mRNA-based vaccine technology.”

Medical myths: All about diabetes

Globally, diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent, as are the myths and misconceptions that surround it. Here, we discuss 11 of these repeated untruths.

Currently, around 1 in 10 people in the United States have diabetes. Globally, more than 422 million people are living with the disease.

Although diabetes is a familiar word, symptoms vary, and the biological mechanisms involved are complex. Because it is both common and complicated, half-truths abound.

Unfortunately, some of the myths we cover in this article increase the stigma attached to diabetes. For this reason alone, it is essential to challenge these falsehoods.

Firstly, we will briefly explain what diabetes is and highlight the differences between the three most common forms of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreas cells that create insulin. It tends to occur earlier in life than type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin, does not respond well to insulin, or both.

At least 90% of people with diabetes in the U.S. have type 2.

Gestational diabetes, as the name suggests, occurs during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the body needs more insulin. Gestational diabetes occurs when the body cannot meet these new requirements.

Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, there is a risk of developing it again during future pregnancies and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

1. Eating sugar causes diabetes

Eating sugar does not directly cause diabetes. However, consuming a sugary diet can lead to overweight and obesity, which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

This is a common myth, perhaps understandably — blood sugar levels play an essential role in diabetes. Sugar itself, though, is not a causal factor.

As ever, the story is complex: there does appear to be a link between regularly drinking soda and risk for type 2 diabetes.

One large study published in 2013 found that, even after controlling for energy intake and body mass index (BMI), drinking soda has links with an increased risk of developing the disease. The study did not find this association in relation to other drinks, such as artificially-sweetened beverages and fruit juices.

Scientists still do not understand why some people develop type 1 diabetes, and others do not. However, nutrition is not a risk factor.

2. Diabetes is not serious

Perhaps because diabetes is so common, some people believe that it is not a serious disease. This is incorrect. There is no cure for diabetes, and there are a host of complications that can occur if a person does not manage the condition well.

Complications include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, blindness, skin conditions, and hearing impairment.

In 2018, diabetes was the underlying cause of 84,946 deaths in the U.S. The World Health Organization estimate that diabetes caused the death of 1.6 million people in 2016.

3. Diabetes only affects people with obesity

Overweight and obesity are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, but the condition can occur in people of any weight. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Diabetes Statistic Report, 2020, 11% of people with type 2 diabetes in the U.S. are neither overweight nor obese.

Type 1 diabetes has no associations with body weight.

4. Obesity always leads to diabetes

Although obesity increases the risk of diabetes, it does not inevitably lead to the disease. According to the CDC, an estimated 39.8% of adults in the U.S. have obesity, but 13% have diabetes.

5. People with diabetes cannot eat sugar

People with diabetes certainly do need to manage their diets carefully: monitoring carbohydrate intake is important. However, they can still incorporate treats.

The American Diabetes Association explain:

“The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions, so you focus your meals on healthier foods.”

Individuals with diabetes need to carefully plan what and when they will eat to ensure that their blood sugar levels remain balanced.

A related myth is that people with diabetes need to eat special “diabetes-friendly” foods. These products are often more expensive, and some can still raise glucose levels.

6. Diabetes always leads to blindness and amputation

Thankfully, this is a myth. While it is true that diabetes can lead to blindness and amputations in some cases, it is not inevitable. And for individuals who manage their condition carefully, these outcomes are rare.

The CDC estimate that 11.7% of adults with diabetes have some level of vision impairment. Lower-extremity amputation occurs in around 0.56% of people with diabetes in the U.S.

Experts have identified several risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing diabetes-related complications. These include obesity and overweight, smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

7. People with diabetes should not drive

A diabetes diagnosis does not automatically mean that someone needs to stop driving. In a position statement on diabetes and driving, the American Diabetes Association explain:

“Most people with diabetes safely operate motor vehicles without creating any meaningful risk of injury to themselves or others.”

However, they also explain that, if concerns arise, people should undergo assessment on an individual basis. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

“People with diabetes are able to drive unless they are limited by certain complications of diabetes. These include severely low blood glucose levels or vision problems. If you are experiencing diabetes-related complications, you should work closely with your diabetes healthcare team to find out if diabetes affects your ability to drive.”

8. Prediabetes always leads to diabetes

In the U.S., an estimated 88 million, or 1 in 3, adults have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not quite high enough to classify as diabetes. If left unchecked, prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes.

However, it is not a given. Lifestyle changes can turn the tide. Regular physical activity and a more healthful diet can stop diabetes in its tracks.

9. People with diabetes cannot be active

Once again, this is untrue. In fact, exercise is an important component in the management of diabetes. Among other things, exercise helps drive weight loss and reduces blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for complications. It can also help the body use insulin better.

However, exercise can impact blood sugar levels in various ways, sometimes increasing it and, at other times, decreasing it.

According to Diabetes U.K., “Some days, you’ll do exactly the same type of activity and eat the same foods, but your blood sugar levels may act differently to what you’d expect.”

They also offer tips for managing blood sugar during activity:

  • Check your blood sugar while exercising and keep a record of how it behaves to show your doctor. This can help guide any necessary changes in insulin.
  • For people who are at risk of hypos, keep fast-acting carbohydrates close to hand.
  • Wear diabetes identification so that people can help if needed.

10. You can ‘catch’ diabetes

This is a myth. Pathogens do not cause diabetes, so a person cannot pass it to someone else. Doctors classify it as a noncommunicable disease.

11. Some natural products cure diabetes

Currently, there is no cure for diabetes. Any claims that a product can cure diabetes are false. Many herbal or natural products will do little or nothing and, in some cases, they can potentially cause harm; diabetes.co.uk explain:

“Because certain herbs, vitamins, and supplements may interact with diabetes medications (including insulin) and increase their hypoglycemic effects, it is often argued that using natural therapies could reduce blood sugars to dangerously low levels and raise the risk of other diabetes complications.”

Diabetes is a complex but common disease. As its prevalence increases, it is essential to overturn myths as we find them.

Everything you need to know about plant based diets

A plant based diet is one that focuses on only or mostly foods from plant sources. This way of eating may have benefits for both a person’s health and the planet.

In this article, we look at what a plant based diet is, the health benefits, and what nutritional considerations a person should make before switching.

What is a plant based diet?

A plant based diet is a diet that involves consuming mostly or only on foods that come from plants. People understand and use the term plant based diet in different ways.

Some people interpret it as a vegan diet, which involves avoiding all animal products.

For others, a plant based diet means that plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, are the main focus of their diet, but they may, occasionally, consume meat, fish, or dairy products.

A plant based diet also focuses on healthful whole foods, rather than processed foods.

Health benefits

Following a plant based diet offers many possible health benefits, including:

Better weight management

Research suggests that people who eat primarily plant based diets tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease than those who eat meat.

Plant based diets are high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and water content from fruit and vegetables. This may help to keep people feeling fuller for longer and increase energy use when resting.

A 2018 study found that a plant based diet was effective for treating obesity. In the study, researchers assigned 75 people who were overweight or had obesity to either a vegan diet or a continuation of their regular diet, which contained meat.

After 4 months, only the vegan group showed a significant weight loss of 6.5 kilograms (14.33 pounds). The plant based vegan group also lost more fat mass and saw improvements in insulin sensitivity, whereas those who consumed a regular diet with meat did not.

A 2009 study on more than 60,000 people also found that vegans had the lowest average BMI, followed by lacto-ovo vegetarians (those that eat dairy and eggs) and pescatarians (people who eat fish but no other meat). The group with the higher average BMI were nonvegetarians.

Lower risk of heart disease and other conditions

A 2019 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that middle aged adults who ate diets high in healthful plant foods and low in animal products had a lower risk of heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, eating less meat can also reduce the risk of:

  • stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • certain cancers
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity

Diabetes prevention and treatment

Plant based diets may help people prevent or manage diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance.

Of the 60,000 people studied in 2009, only 2.9% of people on a vegan diet had type 2 diabetes, compared to 7.6% of those eating a nonvegetarian diet.

People eating vegetarian diets that included dairy and eggs also had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than meat eaters.

Researchers have also looked at whether following a plant based diet can help treat diabetes. The authors of a 2018 review indicate that vegetarian and vegan diets could help people with diabetes reduce their medication needs, lose weight, and improve other metabolic markers.

The authors suggested that doctors might consider recommending plant based diets to people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. While veganism showed the most benefits, the researchers stated that all plant based diets would lead to improvements.

People wanting to try a plant based diet should try one that they think they can follow long term.

Foods to eat

People should focus on eating the following food groups when transitioning to a plant based diet:

Fruits

A plant based diet includes all fruits, such as:

  • berries
  • citrus fruits
  • bananas
  • apples
  • grapes
  • melons
  • avocado

Vegetables

A healthful plant based diet contains plenty of vegetables. Including a variety of colorful vegetables provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Examples include:

  • broccoli
  • kale
  • beetroot
  • cauliflower
  • asparagus
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • zucchini

Root vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates and vitamins. They include:

  • sweet potato
  • potatoes
  • butternut squash
  • beets

Legumes

Legumes are an excellent source of fiber and plant based protein. People can include a wide variety in their diet, including:

  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • peas
  • kidney beans
  • black beans

Seeds

Seeds are a great snack or an easy way to add extra nutrients into a salad or on top of a soup.

Sesame seeds contain calcium and sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E. Other seeds include:

  • pumpkin
  • chia
  • hemp
  • flax

Nuts

Nuts are a good source of plant based protein and vitamins, such as selenium and vitamin E.

  • brazil
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • pecans
  • macadamia
  • pistachios

Healthful fats

It is vital to consume polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Plant based sources include:

  • avocados
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • flaxseed
  • olive oil
  • canola oil

Whole grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber and help maintain stable blood sugar. They also contain essential minerals, such as magnesium, copper, and selenium.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • brown rice
  • oats
  • spelt
  • buckwheat
  • quinoa
  • wholegrain bread
  • rye
  • barley

Plant based milk

If people want to reduce their dairy intake, there is a wide range of plant based milk available in grocery stores and online. These include:

  • almond
  • soy
  • coconut
  • rice
  • oat
  • hemp

Just make sure to choose unsweetened plant milk options.

Foods to avoid

Just reducing or eliminating animal products does not automatically mean a plant based diet is healthful. It is also vital to reduce or avoid unhealthful foods, such as:

  • processed foods
  • sugary foods, such as cakes, biscuits, and pastries
  • refined white carbohydrates
  • processed vegan and vegetarian alternatives that may contain a lot of salt or sugar
  • excess salt
  • fatty, greasy, or deep fried foods

Considerations

Before starting a plant based diet, people should ensure they take steps to get enough of the following nutrients:

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient for blood and cell health. B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia and nerve damage. B-12 is present in many animal products but not in many plant based foods.

People who eat a vegan or even a vegetarian diet could consider taking a B-12 supplement or consume products fortified with B-12. Foods include some cereals, plant based milk, and nutritional yeast.

Iron

People following a plant based diet may have to ensure they get enough iron in their diet, as it has lower bioavailability in plants than meat.

Plant based foods that are a good source of iron include:

  • kidney beans
  • black beans
  • soybeans
  • spinach
  • raisins
  • cashews
  • oatmeal
  • cabbage
  • tomato juice
  • dark leafy greens

Make sure to combine citrus and other vitamin C sources with plant based sources of iron to increase absorption.

Protein

Some people may have concerns about getting enough protein from a plant based diet. However, there is a wide variety of plant based sources of protein, including:

  • lentils
  • chickpeas
  • quinoa
  • beans, such as kidney, pinto, or black beans
  • tofu
  • mushrooms
  • nuts
  • seeds

Consuming proteins from a variety of food sources can help provide all the necessary amino acids for good health. For example, people could add a handful of seeds or a spoonful of hummus to tofu or beans.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential as they help reduce inflammation, memory loss, and other chronic conditions, such as heart disease. The two primary omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA.

Fish, seafood, and animal products, such as eggs are among the primary sources EPA and DHA.

While several plant based foods, such as walnuts, hempseed, and flaxseed, contain omega-3 ALA, research shows that the body is slow and inefficient at converting ALA to EPA and DHA. Some people are also genetically at risk for poor absorption of ALA.

Vegetarians exhibit lower levels of DHA and EPA in blood and tissue, which may increase inflammation, memory difficulties, brain fog, and other effects. People following a plant based diet might want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement.

Some dietitians advise vegetarians to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory linoleic acid they consume. Soybean, corn, sunflower, and safflower oils contain linoleic acid.

Summary

Eating a diet higher in plant foods and lower in animal products can have many health benefits, including weight loss or maintenance and a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

If people want to make the switch to a plant based diet, they can start by gradually reducing their meat and dairy intake.

Eating an entirely plant based meal once a week, or swapping out one animal product for a plant based one, can be an excellent place to start.

People may also wish to speak to a doctor or dietitian before making significant changes in their diet.

5 common myths about obesity

Although obesity is common, there are many misconceptions associated with it — and these myths often fuel social stigma. In this edition of Medical Myths, we tackle five of the most common misunderstandings about obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, 42.4% of adults have obesity. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that around 650 million adults have obesity.

People are growing increasingly aware of the health issues associated with obesity. However, despite public health campaigns, myths continue unabated. Many of the most common myths drive stigma that can impact the mental health of people with obesity.

For instance, the results of one 2020 meta-analysis on the subject indicate “a stronger association between weight stigma and diminished mental health with increasing body mass index [BMI].”

Addressing the myths that surround obesity is important. With this in mind, this article will tackle five of the most prevalent misunderstandings around this condition.

1. To reduce obesity, just eat less and move more

In many cases, consuming more calories than the body needs for a prolonged amount of time is the direct cause of obesity. Indeed, the vast majority of measures for reducing obesity aim to lower caloric intake, increase physical activity, or both.

Although diet and exercise are important factors, several unrelated factors can also play a significant part in obesity.

These factors, which people often forget about, include insufficient sleep, psychological stress, chronic pain, endocrine (hormone) disruptors, and the use of certain medications.

In these cases, overeating, for instance, may be a symptom rather than a cause.

Also, some of these factors work together to increase the chance of obesity. As an example, stress can increase the chance of obesity. Due to the prevalence of weight stigma, obesity can be stressful for some people, thereby increasing stress levels and sparking a negative feedback loop.

Added to this, stress can impact sleep quality, and this, in turn, might cause sleep deprivation, which is another factor in the development of obesity. Sleep deprivation also appears to increase stress levels. As one paper explains, “stress hormone levels correlate positively with decreased sleep duration.”

Sleep apnea, wherein a person stops breathing for short periods during sleep, is more prevalent in people with overweight or obesity. Again, a cycle can form: As they gain weight, their sleep apnea may worsen, which can lead to sleep deprivation, which can lead to further weight gain.

As another example, there appears to be an association between chronic pain and obesity. The reasons for this relationship are sure to be complex and differ from person to person, but they likely include chemical factors, sleep, depression, and lifestyle.

It is not difficult to see how chronic pain would both increase stress levels and impact sleep, adding to the negative loops outlined above.

Stress, sleep, and pain are just three interlinking factors that can drive obesity. Each person’s case will be different, but simply receiving an instruction to “move more and eat less” might not be an adequate intervention.

As this article will continue to reiterate, calorie intake and exercise are vital factors in reducing obesity, but they do not tell the whole tale.

2. Obesity causes diabetes

Obesity does not directly cause diabetes. It is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with obesity will develop type 2 diabetes, and not everyone with type 2 diabetes has obesity.

Obesity is also a risk factor for gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, but it is not a risk factor for type 1 diabetes.

3. People with obesity are lazy

An inactive lifestyle is a factor in obesity, and becoming more active can aid weight loss, but there is more to obesity than inactivity.

One 2011 study used accelerometers to measure the activity levels of 2,832 adults, aged 20–79 years, for 4 days. Their step counts reduced as their weight increased, but the differences were not as significant as one might predict, particularly for women.

The list below shows the women’s weights and how many steps they took per day during this study:

  • those with a “healthy” weight: 8,819 steps
  • those with overweight: 8,506 steps
  • those with obesity: 7,546 steps

When one considers that someone with overweight or obesity expends more energy with each step, the difference between the groups’ overall energy expenditures may be even more slight.

This does not mean that physical activity is not essential for good health, but the story is more complex.

Another factor to consider is that not all people are able to perform physical activity. For instance, some physical disabilities can make moving challenging or impossible.

Also, certain mental health issues can severely impact motivation — and there appears to be a relationship between depression and obesity, which further deepens the complexity.

Aside from physical and mental health issues, some people with obesity may also have a negative body image, which might make leaving their home a more daunting prospect.

4. If your close relatives have obesity, so will you

The relationship between obesity and genetics is complex, but someone whose relatives have obesity will not necessarily develop the condition themselves. However, their chance of doing so is higher.

Understanding the role of genes and the environment in isolation is difficult; people who share similar genes often live together and, therefore, may have similar dietary and lifestyle habits.

In 1990, a group of researchers published a study that helped split genes from the environment. The results appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The scientists investigated twins who had been brought up apart and compared them with twins who had been brought up together. In this way, they hoped to tease apart the impact of genetics and the environment. Overall, they conclude:

“Genetic influences on [BMI] are substantial, whereas the childhood environment has little or no influence.”

One twin study from 1986 reached similar conclusions. The researchers found that the weights of adopted children correlated with the weights of their biological parents, but not with those of their adoptive parents.

Although more recent studies have identified a more significant role for the environment, genetics do appear to play an important part in obesity.

In recent years, scientists have searched for the genes that influence the chance of obesity. As the CDC explain, in most people with obesity, “no single genetic cause can be identified. Since 2006, genome-wide association studies have found more than 50 genes associated with obesity, most with very small effects.”

One gene that is linked to obesity is a variant of a gene called FTO. This variant, according to one 2011 study, is associated with a 20–30% increased chance of obesity.

Although genetics are important, this does not mean that obesity is inevitable for someone whose relatives have the condition. The above study, which involved individuals with the FTO gene variant, looked at the role of exercise. As the paper explains:

“Using data from over 218,000 adults, the authors found that carrying a copy of the susceptibility gene increased the odds of obesity by 1.23-fold. But the size of this influence was 27% less in the genetically susceptible adults who were physically active.”

A review and meta-analysis that investigated the same gene variant came to a similar conclusion. The authors explain that people with the FTO variant “respond equally well to […] weight loss interventions and thus genetic predisposition to obesity associated with the FTO minor allele can be at least partly counteracted through such interventions.”

However, it is important to reiterate the point that these interventions alone may not be helpful for some people.

5. Obesity does not impact health

This is a myth. There are several conditions associated with obesity. For instance, obesity increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and some mental health conditions.

That said, even modest weight loss can provide health benefits. According to the CDC, “weight loss of 5–10% of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”

Also, a review of existing literature in the BMJ concludes that weight loss interventions “may reduce premature all-cause mortality in adults with obesity.”

Obesity is highly prevalent. Currently, the stigma surrounding the condition is unhelpful and can be damaging. We need to address it whenever we encounter it.

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.