Some coronavirus misinformation recently found on social media
Currently there is no known cure. Unfortunately that hasn’t stopped a slew of health advice, ranging from useless but relatively harmless, to downright dangerous. We’ve been looking at some of the most widespread claims being shared online, and what the science really says.
1. Garlic: Lots of posts that recommend eating garlic to prevent infection are being shared on Facebook. The WHO (World Health Organization) says that while it is “a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties, there’s no evidence that eating garlic can protect people from the new coronavirus”.
2. ‘Miracle minerals’: You Tuber, Jordan Sather, who has many thousands of followers across different platforms, has been claiming that a “miracle mineral supplement”, called MMS, can “wipe out” coronavirus. It contains chlorine dioxide – a bleaching agent.
In January he tweeted that, “not only is chlorine dioxide (aka MMS) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too”. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it “is not aware of any research showing that these products are safe or effective for treating any illness”. It warns that drinking them can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and symptoms of severe dehydration.
3. Home-made hand sanitiser:
There have been many reports of shortages of hand sanitiser gel, as washing your hands is one key way to prevent spread of the virus. Alcohol-based hand gels usually also contain emollients, which make them gentler on skin, on top of their 60-70% alcohol content. Professor Sally Bloomfield, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says she does not believe you could make an effective product for sanitising hands at home – even vodka only contains 40% alcohol. For cleaning surfaces, scientists agree that most common household disinfectants should be effective.
4. Drinkable silver
The idea that it could be an effective treatment for coronavirus has been widely shared on Facebook, particularly by “medical freedom” groups which are deeply suspicious of mainstream medical advice. There’s clear advice from health authorities that there’s no evidence this type of silver solution is effective for any health condition. More importantly, it could cause serious side effects including kidney damage, seizures and argyria – a condition that makes your skin turn blue. They say that, unlike iron or zinc, silver is not a metal that has any function in the human body.
5. Drinking water every 15 minutes
One post, copied and pasted by multiple Facebook accounts, quotes a “Japanese doctor” who recommends drinking water every 15 minutes to flush out any virus that might have entered the mouth. A version in Arabic has been shared more than 250,000 times. Professor Trudie Lang at the University of Oxford says there is “no biological mechanism” that would support the idea that you can just wash a respiratory virus down into your stomach and kill it.
6. Heat and avoiding ice cream
There are lots of variations of the advice suggesting heat kills the virus, from recommending drinking hot water to taking hot baths, or using hairdryers. One post, copied and pasted by dozens of social media users in different countries – and falsely attributed to Unicef – claims that drinking hot water and exposure to the sun will kill the virus, and says ice cream is to be avoided. Charlotte Gornitzka, who works for Unicef on coronavirus misinformation, says: “A recent erroneous online message…purporting to be a Unicef communication appears to indicate that avoiding ice cream and other cold foods can help prevent the onset of the disease. This is, of course untrue.
7. Holding your breath
If you can do it for 10 seconds it shows that you have no infection. Patently untrue.
And finally my current favourite
8. Cow urine and dung
There is a long tradition in India of promoting cow urine and dung as traditional remedies for various diseases. But Dr Shailendra Saxena, of the Indian Virological Society, told BBC News: “There is no medical evidence to show that cow urine has anti-viral characteristics. “Moreover, using cow-dung could prove counter-productive as bovine faecal matter could contain a coronavirus which might replicate in humans.” (Unfortunately already sold out in all our local shops and supermarkets…)
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