Novel coronavirus (88) COVID-19 - an anecdote

5 March, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Further to my previous post, can I add healthcare workers to the list of people that the public get health information from - an unintentional omission.

On a slightly separate note, Neil has also invited me to share a personal anecdote with the forum as it seems to illustrate some of the problems with the provision of health information.

It also serves as a reminder that low health literacy extends even into those who are responsible for our health and safety and illustrates how inadvertent misinformation from such people is even more dangerous because people will trust it.

A group recently had a meeting during which issues relating to the current coronavirus outbreak were raised. Despite details being provided about reliable sources of information (guidance from the UK National Health Service) and being warned of the dangers of misinformation, a follow up message was sent from the health & safety officer (HSO) with 'guidance' that the HSO thought might 'help' others. The HSO also added that this 'guidance' was 'Very useful and precise instead of going through the NHS website which has a lot more information. The notion is if you feel any of the symptoms, please self quarantine yourself.'

It seems the HSO (highly qualified, but not a person with a medical background*) may have thought this was from a reliable source because the source was supposedly 'Someone who graduated with a master's degree and who worked in Shenzhen Hospital (Guangdong Province, China)' [although the actual source was not named, and a subsequent google search suggested that the 'guidance' email was a message already circulating on social media].

The 'guidance' contained a number of points that might make sense to the layman, perhaps reinforcing his/her belief that this is good/trustworthy information. (Perhaps this means that the layman does not see this as nonsense and does not immediately class the message as 'misinformation'.)

I share this so-called 'guidance' below in order to add to the discussion about health information/misinformation rather than discuss the individual points. I'm sure many of you have seen similar 'guidance'.


Someone who graduated with a master's degree and who worked in Shenzhen Hospital (Guangdong Province, China) sent the following notes on Coronavirus for guidance:

1. If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold

2. Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.

3. This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees. It hates the Sun.

4. If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.

5. 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.

6. On fabric it can survive for 6-12 hours. normal laundry detergent will kill it.

7. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink liquids with ice.

8. 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.

9. You should also gargle as a prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.

10. Can't emphasise enough - drink plenty of water!


1. It will first infect the throat, so you'll have a sore throat lasting 3/4 days

2. The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.

3. With the pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing.

4. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind. You feel like you're drowning. It's imperative you then seek immediate attention.


(*Perhaps HIFA needs to have discussions about access to health information by such individuals?)

Best wishes


HIFA profile: Julie N Reza is a UK-based specialist in communications for biosciences, global health & international development ( She predominantly works with NGOs and not-for-profit organisations. Previously she was the senior science editor at TDR, based at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva; prior to this she worked at the Wellcome Trust, UK, leading educational projects on international health topics including trypanosomiasis and trachoma. She has a PhD in immunology and a specialist degree in science communication. She also has several years research and postgraduate teaching experience. She is a member of the HIFA Steering Group and HIFA Social Media Working Group.

Email: naimareza AT