What Happens When a Virus Goes Viral?

Natalie Abernethy
February 12, 2020

If you’ve been on the internet in the last few months—which clearly you have been, since you’re reading this—you’ve surely heard of the coronavirus. Talk of this new pandemic has been going viral online for a while now, for better or for worse.

Depending on what corners of the web you hang out in, you may be receiving totally different information than your friends or colleagues. Should we be worried? Is this disease a cause for concern, or just another over-hyped craze on social media?

There’s a lack of concrete information on the spread, severity, and true origin of the virus. We know it stems from Wuhan, China, it has a several day incubation period where no symptoms are present, and the internet is totally freaking out. In the age of fake news, what should we believe? 

Let’s check in on what’s real and what’s misinformation. People on the internet love being dramatic, don’t they?


Last month, a video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup went viral. The internet went wild claiming that this is the origin of the virus in humans. 


MISINFORMATION: This is simply not true. Yes, the origin is linked to a market in Wuhan, but the specifics are still unclear. However, this story is completely unrelated to that market. Not only was this video reportedly filmed and posted in 2016, but she was traveling in southeast Asia during the time of filming. 

FACT: Animals carry diseases that can, on occasion, pass to humans. Scientists are still trying to figure out the true origin of coronavirus—recently, pangolins are at the forefront of the discussion as the carrying link between bats and humans. Bottom line? Maybe avoid the exotic meats for a while, and stop sending this woman death threats.

Severity in China

Because of the hoards of information online, the severity of the virus in China is hotly contested. A definite fact is that Chinese government has a certain level of control over what information goes out, and that includes perhaps downplaying the state of things. It’s been difficult to get concrete numbers, which means the internet is going all the more wild.

MISINFORMATION: There are not “millions” of coronavirus cases, nor are there hundreds of thousands dead. This fear-mongering “journalism” is vastly over-inflating these numbers to create shareable articles.

FACT: No one truly knows the number of infected, especially since the virus has a long incubation period. However, as of February 10, the official death toll for coronavirus is just over 1,000, with 43,000 infections mostly in China. Definitely freaky, but don’t let these sensational headlines fool you.

How to stay healthy

Home remedies for treating illnesses and avoiding them in the first place have always been around, but the holistic health craze is in full force in the wake of coronavirus. Suggestions are all over the place. Here are some of the weirder ones I’ve come across:

Hmm. Something about drinking bleach doesn’t sound right to me. Did we not learn from the Tide Pod fiasco? I’ll stick with the official recommendations from the World Health Organization:

At this point, I’ve simply stopped looking at articles about coronavirus. The regular flu should be on your radar more than this. Get your flu shot, buy some hand sanitizer, and think twice before you share something without all the facts.