The Claim: Holding your breath for 10 seconds every day can self-check for COVID-19

Amid the sea of misinformation circulating social media, a self-check for COVID-19 is popping up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. Social media users claim people can test themselves for COVID-19 every day by attempting to hold their breath for 10 seconds.

On March 13, one Facebook post with more than 150 shares explained the test, “Take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, etc., it proves there is no (COVID-19 caused) Fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection.”

What experts say: The breath test is inaccurate

University of Maryland Chief Quality Officer and Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr. Faheem Younus tweeted on March 16: “Wrong: Most young patients with coronavirus will be able to hold their breaths for much longer than 10 seconds. And many elderly without the virus won’t be able to do it.”

On March 17, Dr. Thomas Nash, a New York Presbyterian Hospital internist, pulmonologist and infectious disease specialist, told Reuters the breath test was “just made up.”

Different posts mistakenly source the claim to an unnamed Stanford Hospital Board member, a Japanese doctor or Taiwanese experts. On March 13, Stanford University tweeted, “Misinformation about COVID-19 symptoms and treatment falsely attributed to Stanford is circulating on social media and in email forwards. It is not from Stanford.”

Stanford Health Care spokeswoman Lisa Kim told CNN on March 17 that the "dangerous" claim was not from Stanford Medicine and "contains inaccurate information."

The March 13 post claimed the breath test checked for fibrosis caused by COVID-19. The post read, “By the time they have fever and/or cough and go to the hospital, the lung is usually 50% Fibrosis and it's too late.”

Fibrosis is defined as “the overgrowth, hardening, and/or scarring of various tissues” caused by “chronic inflammatory reactions induced by a variety of stimuli including persistent infections, autoimmune reactions, allergic responses, chemical insults, radiation, and tissue injury.”

Dr. Robert Legare Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine called the post’s language "extremely alarmist" to CNN on March 17.

Nash told Reuters that “fibrosis takes months if not years to develop.”

Although COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia in some patients, which can eventually lead to fibrosis, Nash said this virus “is brand new and no one on the planet knows if it causes fibrosis.”’

The post also claimed  the development of pneumonia was the second symptom of COVID-19, but according to the World Health Organization only patients with severe cases develop pneumonia.

Along with fibrosis and pneumonia, the post misrepresents COVID-19 symptoms as feeling “like you’re drowning.”

Atmar said COVID-19 patients likely wouldn’t experience that symptom, “That does not sound like any other respiratory virus people are infected with and many patients with coronavirus have not had nasal infection at all."

In addition to the breath test, Facebook posts suggest ineffective methods to protect against the virus such as drinking large amounts of water, gargling saltwater and exposure to heat and sun.

A similar March 12 Facebook post with nearly 200 shares read, “Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water and other fluids will help wash it down ... the hydrochloric acid in your stomach will kill the germs. If you do not drink enough water regularly, the virus can enter the airways and into your lungs”.

Younas debunked the water method on Twitter, “Virus may gain entry via throat but it penetrates into the host cells. You can’t wash it away. Excessive water will make you run to the toilet.”

PolitFact and Snopes both discredited the claim that “you should also gargle as a prevention” method. Both found that while gargling does ease throat discomfort there is no evidence that it kills the virus.

The March 13 Facebook post also claimed that COVID-19 “hates the sun” and could be killed by just “26/27 degrees,” which is about 78 degrees Fahrenheit. PolitiFact debunked the claim that sun exposure kills the virus. The WHO warns that hot baths and warm climates do not prevent the spread of COVID-19.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user, Todd Richardson, for comment and received no response.

Our Ruling: False

Social media posts claim holding your breath for 10 seconds is a self-check for COVID-19. We rate this claim as FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The breath test is an ineffective way to test for fibrosis, which has not been linked to COVID-19. Patients should not expect a drowning feeling and pneumonia only occurs in severe cases. Drinking liquids, gargling saltwater and sun or heat exposure are not effective methods of preventing COVID-19 contraction.

People who are concerned that they’ve contracted COVID-19 should use the Center for Disease Control’s Self-Checker Tool for guidance or contact a doctor.

Our fact-check sources:

University of Maryland's Dr. Faheem Younus Dr. Faheem Younus' Twitter Reuters: False claim: Doctors offer advice for preventing COVID-19 Stanford University's Twitter  CNN: Coronavirus myths U.S. National Library of Medicine, fibrosis WHO on coronavirus Dr. Faheem Younus on Twitter Politifact, on gargling and coronavirus Snopes, on gargling and coronavirus PolitiFact, on sun exposure and coronavirus WHO, on coronavirus myths CDC on coronavirus testing and symptoms