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Misleading: These charts about COVID-19 contain inaccurate medical information

Cheryl Ho
Cheryl Ho
Feb 21 · 3 min read

By Cheryl Ho

A misleading chart comparing the symptoms of COVID-19 to the flu and common cold has been widely shared through messaging apps and social media platforms in Hong Kong.

It has been shared on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as through blogs and news websites (also here) in Chinese.

The chart is misleading because it claims people suffering from the novel coronavirus do not develop some symptoms seen in flu or common cold patients, such as a runny or stuffy nose, a sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle pain, among others.

Self-diagnosis based on this chart could be harmful. Research published Feb. 7 based on 138 hospitalized patients in Wuhan, China, indicates that muscle pain, headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are among the possible signs of a COVID-19 infection, along with fever, dry cough, thick yellow-green phlegm, muscle weakness and shortness of breath.

Another study published by The Lancet on Jan. 30 points out that a sore throat is a possible symptom of a COVID-19 infection.

Another chart showing the environment under which the novel coronavirus could die has also been shared widely. It is purportedly based on a public announcement in Japan and often accompanies the above chart.

Phoenix TV was one of the first to publish this second chart, on Feb. 11. The TV news show said nasal mucus has an average temperature of 56 degrees Celsius, and the new coronavirus could survive for only 30 minutes under such an environment (in nasal mucus).

This is obviously an error. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, healthy body temperature does not exceed 37.22 C. Fevers exceeding 42.22 C could result in convulsions and death.

There are other variations of this chart.

This one found on a web security site is nearly identical to the above but the temperature of nasal mucus has been changed from 56 C to 35 C.

It makes no sense because the novel coronavirus would certainly not die after 30 minutes in a temperature similar to that of the human body (the virus’s incubation period is said to be three to 14 days, in fact).

The rest of the chart shows how long the novel coronavirus could survive on different surfaces such as wood and cloth at different temperatures.

Annie Lab could not identify the alleged source of information from Japan as Phoenix TV has not responded to our inquiry by the time of publication.

[Update on March 26, 2020] BBC published a feature article looking into the current research on this very topic under the headline “Covid-19: How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?” on March 17.

Disclaimer: This is a student work. Although JMSC faculty members have done everything possible to verify its accuracy, we cannot guarantee there are no mistakes. If you notice an error or have any questions, please email us at contact@annieasia.org.

annie lab

Fact-checking project @ Journalism & Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, in collaboration with Asian Network of News & Information Educators (ANNIE).

Cheryl Ho

Written by

Cheryl Ho

annie lab

annie lab

Fact-checking project @ Journalism & Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, in collaboration with Asian Network of News & Information Educators (ANNIE).

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