Breaking Down The COVID-19 ‘Friend’s Uncle’s Guidance’ Meme

As rumors quickly spread about purported myriad threats of a novel coronavirus strain known as COVID-19, a chain letter-style post purportedly containing medical advice about both the symptoms and treatments for the disease was spread heavily on Facebook despite relying (as these types of posts almost inevitably do) on third-hand, uncited “advice.”

The post, which has been shared more than 291,000 times on the platform since being published on February 27 2020, is presented as an “important announcement”:

Last evening dining out with friends, one of their uncles, who’s graduated with a master’s degree and who worked in Shenzhen Hospital (Guangdong Province, China) sent him the following notes on Coronavirus for guidance:

The post then offers a list full of claims:

We spoke to Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and associate with the office for science and society at McGill University in Canada who co-hosts a podcast about medical disinformation and misinformation; he was able to identify four outright falsehoods listed in the “guidance” for treating the virus. We separated the list based on the accuracy of its litany of claims to make it easier to read, with Labos’ comments listed under each item.

What’s False

  •  This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees. It hates the Sun.
    Labos: “Your internal body temperature is 36-37 degrees Celsius. If that were true, coronavirus could not survive in the human body.”
  • If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.
    Labos: “Usually people say around 6 feet, but there’s probably some normal variation there.”
  • Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink liquids with ice.
    Labos: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that’s true. Your own body heat warms up anything you drink anyway.”
  • You should also gargle as a prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.
    Labos: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that’s true.”

Likewise, there is no evidence that item 10 (“can’t emphasise enough – drink plenty of water!”) is a proven deterrent or treatment to the visor, even if increasing water intake is generally considered a positive for one’s health, at least to a certain extent.

What’s True

  • Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minutes, but — a lot can happen during that time — you can rub your eyes, pick your nose unwittingly and so on.

Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health experts have advised people to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer, but it is unclear how long the virus can “live on your hands.”

What’s Unknown

  • If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold.
  • Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.

The symptoms associated with COVID-19 can vary; for instance, the CDC reported that in some cases involving children in China, patients listed a runny nose as a symptom alongside coughing and running a fever. The section of the post detailing an alleged timeline for the virus’ progression (listed in the meme as “THE SYMPTOMS”) is also unclear. Some patients did not report any symptoms prior to being diagnosed with the virus.

  • If it drops on a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours — so if you come into contact with any metal surface — wash your hands as soon as you can with a bacterial soap.
  • On fabric it can survive for 6-12 hours. normal laundry detergent will kill it.

According to the CDC, “it may be possible” that a person can contract the virus by touching an affected surface with their mouth, nose, or eyes, it is believed that it primarily spreads through human contact.

We attempted to contact other public health institutions for more information, such as the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. seeking comment — but a school spokesperson there told us that they were only granting such requests to “top-tier” news outlets.