A nurse (R) checks on a patient who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus as he undergoes a procedure to donate plasma at a hospital in Manila on April 22, 2020. (AFP / Maria Tan)

Myth circulates online that COVID-19 symptoms progress in three distinct stages

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Multiple Facebook posts shared hundreds of times claim patients infected with the novel coronavirus will experience respiratory symptoms that progress in severity in three distinct stages. The posts also prescribe purported home remedies for the disease, including eating garlic and gargling saltwater and vinegar. The claims are misleading; health experts have said COVID-19 symptoms vary from person-to-person; the purported coronavirus treatments listed in the posts have previously been debunked by AFP.

The claim has been shared more than 600 times after it was published on Facebook here on April 14, 2020. 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

Screenshot of Facebook post

Written in a mix of Tagalog and English, the post reads, in part: "The covid-19 incubation is 14 days before the symptoms present, so once you are infected, you wouldn't immediately know. Very alarming, once you are infected you can already infect others even if you don't experience the symptoms. Really the most important, to know the behavior of the virus once it hits you. It's in 3 stages.

"#1STSTAGE headache... pain in the head just like someone with sinusitis, then when the pain is gone it’s the beginning of / #2NDSTAGE. you will have flu, high fever and dry throat along with dry cough and cold to the point of losing your voice.. after a few days you will slightly feel better, that's the time of the onset of / #3RDSTAGE which is #THEMOSTDANGEROUS. I repeat the most dangerous. From flu it will become a pneumonia.."

The post adds that “the best remedy” for COVID-19 includes gargling lukewarm water with salt and vinegar; consuming boiled ginger and Philippine limes; eating garlic; and not letting one’s throat dry up.

Identical claims have been shared here, here, here, here and here on Facebook. 

The claims are misleading. 

International health authorities maintain that the symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person-to-person. 

"The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 present at illness onset vary,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states in this information page.

Over the course of the disease, most patients will experience fever, cough, fatigue and other symptoms, the CDC said. Headache, sore throat and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea “have also been reported but are less common”.

Below is a screenshot of the CDC’s guidance:

Screenshot of CDC's guidance

COVID-19 symptoms also vary in severity and can differ depending on other factors, including the patient's age and pre-existing conditions.

“The COVID-19 virus affects different people in different ways,” the World Health Organization (WHO) states here. “Most infected people will develop mild to moderate symptoms and recover without requiring special treatment.”

The WHO notes: “older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.”

The claims made in the misleading posts about purported home remedies are also inaccurate. Gargling saltwater and vinegar, consuming boiled ginger, eating garlic, and keeping one’s throat moist have all been previously debunked by AFP here, here, here and here.