top of page

Truths and Myths About COVID-19

Wealth Okete

Saturday, 28 March 2020

At first, we had thought it was a rumour, another attention-seeking 'made in China' article trying to distract us. But it didn't care. It kept on growing in swift silence, spreading its tentacles across borders and beyond boundaries. Next, we had found consolation in thoughts that even if it does get into the continent, it wouldn't survive our climate, let alone our thick, dark, unyielding melanin; that Africans are much more virile and venomous than any virus; that we are too strong to be defeated by the white man's ailment. But, it wouldn't give up still. Right under our watch, it crawled into the continent, defied our beliefs, embraced our climate and invaded our skin. Today, the whole narrative is scary; both strange and spontaneous. It breaks down our walls of superstition, ignorance and indifference; stonewalls built on the premise of an age-long assumption - 'disease no dey kill African man'. Hopefully, if we would learn and imbibe all the beautiful lessons this ugly experience affords us, we'd be able to avert a 'next time', just in case...

SARS-CoV-2 is the technical 'code' name for the virus that has levelled the padded shoulders of world giants, and brought us all to the familiar groove of suffering. It stands for, 'severe acute respiratory syndrome - coronavirus - 2'. It is a coronavirus; a family of viruses, so named for their 'crownlike' surface features. Although, there are several conspiracy theories surrounding the origin of the novel Coronavirus, scientific research has not left us without a reliable perspective. A study conducted by Andersen K. G. and his colleagues [1], proved that the Coronavirus is not a biological weapon fabricated in the laboratory, but a natural occurrence (or disaster, whichever you find convenient), just like the other viruses we are quite familiar with. Although, the exact source of the virus was unknown at the onset of the outbreak, subsequent research however, pointed to pangolins and bats as the likely culprits. This makes sense as both the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (middle east respiratory syndrome) coronaviruses of 2002 and 2012, respectively were also found to have mutated and jumped on humans from animals. 'Zoonotic' is the adjective that describes a micro-organism or disease that is transferable from animals to humans, and vice versa. SARS-CoV-2 knows no age barrier in its operation - newborns, children, youths and adults have tasted of its sour liquor, and have sometimes faced the death sentence.

'COVID-19', a shortened, more friendly acronym for the 2019 coronavirus disease, is the latest technology from the SARS-CoV-2 that has proven to be a too-tough-to-crack nut. The symptoms of the disease include; dry cough, fever, loss of sense of smell, fatigue, aches and pains, shortness of breath, headache, sore throat and malaise (the general feeling of being unwell). The fact that an individual shows none of these symptoms (asymptomatic) of COVID-19 however, does not necessarily mean he has not contracted the disease, or cannot spread it to others.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease, and spreads primarily via contact with the respiratory droplets and mucus of an infected person (especially when he coughs or sneezes). Speculations also have it that the disease may be contracted via sex, but this is untrue. Moreso, there's currently no evidence that one could be infected via other bodily secretions - sweat, breast milk, urine, semen or tears - or from a mosquito bite. Although, most cases of infection arise from person-to-person transmission, research has shown that the virus could remain stable in air droplets for up to three hours, and on surfaces for several hours or days; copper surfaces - up to 4 hours, cardboard - up to 24 hours, stainless steel and plastic - 2 to 3 days [2]. The implication of this research is that, the virus may also be spreading via these other means (even though the number of cases from these modes of transmission may be minimal).

The fight against Coronavirus gets tougher and more fascinating with the dawn of each new day. About 199 countries (including the Diamond Princess) have recorded one or more positive cases, with at least 38 of them having over 1,000 cases. The United States (US), Italy and Spain currently set the pace for countries with the highest number of cases aside China, where the disease first broke out in December 2019. The total number of cases, deaths and recoveries on the global scale, currently exceed 590,000, 27000 and 130,000, respectively [3].

Africa is not left behind in the current unveiling of events around the world. South Africa, Egypt and Algeria currently lead the pack in the continent, where over 4,000 cases and at least 100 deaths have been recorded [3]. These seemingly low figures however, do not call for rejoicing; not just yet. Authorities fear that cases in Africa may be under-reported, especially considering the uneven distribution of test centres across its countries, as well as insufficient awareness amongst its citizens. The challenges that come with a crippling economy, inadequate health infrastructure and limited medical personnel also place the continent at a disadvantaged position in dealing with the virus.

Covid 19

In Nigeria, where the virus was first welcomed in late February, the spread of the virus appears to be tightly under control; even though there are obvious possibilities of under-reporting. So far, the country has recorded at least 81 cases of COVID-19; 77 of which are active cases (6 of whom await discharge), 3, recovery cases and 1, death. The cases are spread across 9 states: Lagos (52), Ogun (3), Ekiti (1), Oyo (3), Edo (2), Osun (1), Bauchi (2), Rivers (1) and Enugu (2); and the FCT (14) [4]. Meanwhile, a report has it that at least 4,370 contacts are still being traced; but as we all know, time is never on anyone's side.

While we await the possibility of a national lockdown, most states are already taking effective measures to stem the spread of the virus. However, regardless of how stringent and effective these measures are, or appear to be, the reaction and response of the average Nigerian to the spread of the virus still plays the most important role in keeping COVID-19 at bay.

Whether online or offline, misinformation, rumours and fake news in the guise of true, verified information abound, everywhere. Consequently, apart from getting informed, one must watch carefully to ensure that information garnered come from reliable and approved sources. Some of the most prevalent misconceptions about COVID-19 have been identified and debunked in the list below.

| Temperature: There is no proof yet that a high or low temperature could affect the spread of the virus or severity of an infection. Bathing with warm water, using hand dryers, drinking warm water or fruit juices, eating hot and spicy foods, do not significantly affect the spread or severity of the disease.

| Age: Whether old or young, everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19, however the severity of symptoms and fatality may differ with one's age or health status. Individuals with a weakened or compromised immune system, especially old people (60 years+) and those with underlying illnesses, like non-communicable diseases (diabetes, heart diseases, and asthma) stand a higher risk for severe symptoms and death. Nigeria's first death case, for example, was a 67 years old man already suffering from multiple myeloma and diabetes.

| Antibiotics: Antibiotics cannot kill the Coronavirus or ward off its symptoms. They are only effective against bacterial or fungal infections, not viruses.

| Chloroquine: Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the use of anti-malarial drugs; Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for clinical trials against COVID-19 [5], individuals are not to self-medicate or overdose on these drugs in bid to treat or prevent the disease.

| Fruits, Vegetables, Spices and Herbal Mixtures: It is true that most fruits, vegetables, spices and local herbs possess special therapeutic effects against diseases and infections. However, they should only be consumed religiously as part of a balanced diet, and not a cure for the coronavirus disease.

| Alcohol: There is currently no evidence that alcohol consumption could prevent or treat the disease. As a matter of fact, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with liver damage and cancer. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are only recommended as an alternative to handwashing with soap and water; they should not be gargled or used for other purposes.

Here are a few safety tips from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to help you combat COVID-19.

| Engage in regular and thorough handwashing with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers;

| Practise good respiratory hygiene;

| Practise social (or 'physical') distancing;

| Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth;

| Don't self-medicate;

| Don't spread fake news.

If we all play our parts, COVID-19 would soon become a thing of the past.

| References

[1] - The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 | Andersen, K. G., et al. | Nature Medicine

[2] - The Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is Stable for Hours on Surfaces | Microbiology | LabRoots

[3] - Countries where Coronavirus has spread | Worldometer

Accessed on Saturday, March 28, 2020; 8:00am (GMT+1).

[4] - This report is based on updates from the NCDC, via

Accessed on Saturday, March 28, 2020; 8:00am (GMT+1).

[5] - WHO launches global megatrial of the four most promising coronavirus treatments | Science | AAAS

WHO recently approved four promising therapies against COVID-19, for large-scale clinical trials across the globe. The other drugs approved by WHO, excluding the anti-malarial drugs, Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine, include: Remdesivir (an experimental antiviral drug which had shown success with SARS and MERS), Lopinavir and Ritonavir (HIV drugs) and Interferon-beta (an immune system messenger that can cripple viruses).


Fascinated by the intricate, inter-connected concepts in Biochemistry, Wealth has watched his interest in biomedical research and science communication grow over the years. He currently writes health articles for the Weekend edition of the Nigerian Observer newspaper, and still manages to flaunt his irresistible flare for writing in poems and inspirational pieces. He is a serving corps member in Western Nigeria who takes great delight in educating and mentoring his students, and does not hesitate to volunteer whenever the need arises.

bottom of page