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No, holding your breath isn’t a test for Covid-19

Are you looking for accurate information on the novel coronavirus pandemic? We've put all our fact-checks in one place. Read our Live Guide.

We’re all worried about the new coronavirus. Covid-19, the disease it causes, has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

False information about the disease is dangerous. It could make uninfected people think they have the virus. It could also make people who do have the virus think they’re uninfected. They could infect others, including vulnerable people who may die from Covid-19.

One myth commonly shared on social media is that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds or more, you don’t have Covid-19. The claim has been shared many times on Facebook, on WhatsApp – and on the US news channel Fox News.

With bated breath

The claim is false.

It’s already been debunked by experts speaking to the Associated Press, CNN and even Fox News. Stanford University has been falsely quoted as the source of the claim, but it distanced itself from the misinformation in a tweet. It added that the university’s official advice about the virus would be posted on its health alerts page.

Dr Robert Legare Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Associated Press that the test “will not identify persons who are infected and have mild to no symptoms”. It would also return false positives for people with existing conditions that make breathing difficult.

The WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend the test. Instead, they advise people who think they might have Covid-19 to stay home and seek medical attention by calling their local health authority.

This authority might not conduct a coronavirus test, as patients with mild symptoms could recover from the illness while isolating and caring for themselves at home.

The CDC says: “People at higher risk for serious illness from Covid-19 should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild.” This includes the elderly and those with existing chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung diseases or diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says people should be tested for Covid-19 if they may have been exposed to the virus and display one of these symptoms: “cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever ≥ 38°C (measured) or history of fever”.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says anyone who has “recently travelled from any country with ongoing transmission of Covid-19 and feel unwell” should immediately contact their national phone hotlines. The third version of its national case definition for Covid-19 (the most up to date at time of writing) contains similar guidelines to the NICD’s. It says people should be tested if they believe they have been exposed to the virus and have “fever, cough or difficulty in breathing”.

How to identify other false Covid-19 claims

Several of the social media posts contain other false claims about the new coronavirus. These range from other false information about Covid-19 symptoms to suggestions that even mild heat will kill the virus.

Africa Check has already investigated or debunked many of these claims. Our coronavirus Live Guide is regularly updated with all our fact-checks on the new coronavirus, and contains information on how to avoid spreading false information.

Before sharing any claims about Covid-19, ensure that the information is supported by a credible source. Global sources include the WHO, and CDC. Local sources within Africa include South Africa’s department of health, Nigeria’s ministry of health, as well as the NICD and NCDC. – Keegan Leech


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