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Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Are Taking Over The Internet, So Let's Bust Some

Caitlyn Clancey 25 Jan 2020

By now, I'm sure we've all heard about the spread of the coronavirus, and if you're anything like me, you're starting to feel a little freaked out about the whole thing.

It certainly doesn't help that the people of internet have taken it upon themselves to become coronavirus experts and have begun spreading some pretty wild and often offensive conspiracy theories regarding the virus and its origins.

While it can be hard to separate fact from fiction in a high-stress situation like this, it's important that we don't let ourselves get caught up in outrageous social media posts or fear-mongering news headlines.

Instead, let's all take a minute to breathe and try to figure out what's real here and what are simply panic-fueled myths.

First of all, what is the coronavirus and what do we know for sure so far?

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sars-corona.png

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses, like the common cold.

According to CNN, this newly identified coronavirus (or 2019-nCoV) was first discovered in the province of Wuhan, China, in December of last year.

Since its initial discovery, the virus has spread to every province in China, save for a few remote regions, and has also now spread in various areas around the world, though it's still primarily based in mainland China.

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Exact numbers are hard to come by right now, but there have been an estimated 1,300 confirmed coronavirus cases in the world so far.

Of that number, there have been 41 deaths linked to the virus in China.

On January 21, the first person in the U.S. was confirmed to have the virus with a second confirmed case on January 24. Both Americans had recently returned from visiting Wuhan.

As of January 24, the CDC is investigating more than 60 people in 22 states for possible coronavirus infections, and so far 11 of those people have tested negative.

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People have started spreading rumors about where the coronavirus actually came from.

Just a few days ago, a video of a woman eating bat soup at a Wuhan restaurant went viral, appearing all over social media and in some news headlines, too. The graphic footage, as well as other similar videos, have bolstered the assumption that some Chinese people's fondness for eating bats or bat soup has sparked a global pandemic.

"No wonder there are a load of odd [viruses] coming out of China," one Twitter user wrote, while another added, "Coronavirus recipe."

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But experts say the true origin of the coronavirus is far more complex than simply pointing fingers at bat dishes.

Unsplash | Adli Wahid

Because most coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, are transmitted from wild animals, the working theory right now is that this new coronavirus also came from an animal host.

According to Business Insider, the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan City is believed to be the starting point for the virus outbreak. This "wet market", as it is called, offers the sale of meat alongside live animals, and has since been shut down in an effort to prevent further spread.

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Researchers continue to examine the correlation between China's love of consuming wild animals and the outbreak.

Unsplash | Max van den Oetelaar

In the meantime, Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor specializing in global health security at the University of Sydney, is advising people to ignore the tabloid headlines and put bat soup out of their minds.

"It's not simply a matter of the consumption of exotic animals per se," he told TIME. "So we need to be mindful of picking on or condemning cultural practices."

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Plus, attacking an entire country's eating habits is outrageously offensive, given China's history with food.

Unsplash | Denny Ryanto

The practice of eating exotic animals actually stems from a history of famine and food shortages, political economis Hu Xingdou told the New Zealand Herald:

"While feeding themselves is not a problem to many Chinese nowadays, eating novel food or meat, organs or parts from rare animals or plants has become a measure of identity to some people."

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It's important to note that as of right now, there is NO evidence that says eating bats was the source of the coronavirus outbreak.

Unsplash | Tine Ivanič

In fact, scientists in China who are investigating the coronavirus have now determined the genetic code of the virus, and compared it to the protein codes from coronaviruses found in different animal hosts, such as birds, snakes, bats, and humans.

As per their results, published in the Journal of Medical Virology, 2019-nCoV likely originated in snakes, not bats.

However, this research is still new, and it's unclear which specific snake may be the original source.

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Another viral hoax insists there's a vaccine or a cure for the coronavirus, one which the Chinese government refuses to release.

Facebook | Isaiah Rastetter

You may have seen or heard of this viral Facebook post, dated January 22, accompanied by a screenshot of a patent filed by the CDC for a supposed coronavirus vaccine.

This suggests the virus was introduced by the Chinese government in order for pharmaceutical companies to make big money off vaccines.

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But the coronavirus is pretty much brand new, so it's impossible for there to already be a vaccine for it.

Unsplash | CDC

And, as PolitiFact pointed out, this particular screenshot of a patent actually applies to severe acute respiratory syndrome, more commonly known as SARS.

While it is another coronavirus that also originated in China, it is not the same virus.

"There are no vaccines available for any coronaviruses let alone the [Wuhan] one," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Health Security, told PoliFact.

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So what can we do in the meantime to make sure we're as healthy and as safe from any potential virus as possible?

Unsplash | Marcelo Leal

First of all, although coronavirus cases are expected to continue to climb, we shouldn't panic. Public health teams are working hard to determine its origins and its threat.

And, since it's likely that coughs or sneezes from an infected person is responsible for the spread of the virus from person to person, it's important to make sure we make sure we remain as clean as possible.

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This means taking steps to curb our chances of contracting the disease, should we come into contact with it.

Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious disease and vice chairman of the department of medicine at South South Shore Hospital, advised people to wash their hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes with their inner elbow, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouths with their hands.

"Stay home from work or school if you have a fever," he wrote in Health Harvard Publishing. "Stay away from people who have signs of respiratory tract infection, such as running nose, coughing and sneezing."

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In the U.S. right now, a person's chance of contracting the coronavirus is incredibly low.

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Unless you've come into close contact with someone who has the virus, likely someone who's travelled from Wuhan, China, you're most likely quite safe.

So let's not worry ourselves into a panic, okay? And rather than let ourselves be affected by headlines, we should keep an eye on confirmed updates and information from public health organizations like the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

h/t: Health Harvard Publishing, CNN, CDC, Business Insider, CNN, TIME, New Zealand Herald, Journal of Medical Virology, PoliFact

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