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Dispelling the myths around the new coronavirus outbreak

Al Jazeera logo Al Jazeera 2020-02-02 Al Jazeera English
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Passengers arriving from Changsha in China are screened for the new type of coronavirus [Patrick Ngugi/ AP] © [Patrick Ngugi/ AP] Passengers arriving from Changsha in China are screened for the new type of coronavirus [Patrick Ngugi/ AP]

A new coronavirus outbreak that is thought to have originated in China's central city of Wuhan has spread to two dozen countries across the globe, infecting more than 14,000 people and killing over 300.

All but one of the deaths from the virus have occurred in China and the vast majority of the infections have also been reported there. Some 14,380 cases have been documented in China since the coronavirus, labelled 2019-nCoV, was first detected in late December.

The fast-spread of the deadly virus has been accompanied by misinformation and hoaxes online, including false claims about its source, its spread and how to treat it - a development doctors and health experts have called "dangerous". 

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the virus epidemic in China a public health emergency of international concern. But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency's director-general, said the main reason for the designation was not "because of what is happening in China" but "the potential for this virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it".

Here are four myths the global health agency has busted on the current outbreak.

Antibiotics are effective in treating the new coronavirus

Administering antibiotics does not help because they only work against bacteria, not viruses.

2019-nCoV is a virus.

Some patients may have antibiotics administered to them in hospital because bacterial co-infections are possible in some cases.

Herbal remedies and other drugs can help treat the new virus 

There is no specific medicine recommended to treat the new virus, according to WHO.

"However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care," the agency said.

"Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners," it added.

The agency urged people to follow best practices in hand and respiratory hygiene and handling food in order to reduce exposure to and transmission of the new virus. They include frequently cleaning hands, avoiding close contact with anyone who has fever and cough, and avoiding the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. 

New coronavirus only affects older people

People of all ages can be infected by the virus.

However, the global health agency said older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions - such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease - appear to be more vulnerable to falling severely ill with the coronavirus.

Pets can spread the new coronavirus

There is no evidence at present to suggest that pets such as dogs and cats can be infected with the new virus.

WHO, however, recommends washing your hands with soap and water after contact with pets to protect against common bacteria that can pass between pets and humans.

Everything we know about the mysterious virus sweeping China (Supplied by Business Insider)

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