Misinformation about the new coronavirus on the internet and social media can be devastating and even killing, spreading toxic miracle remedies and advising discontinuation of medical treatments.
Investigators have launched a race against time to find an effective treatment or vaccine against a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people.
Meanwhile, the most insane rumors are spreading on the internet, fueling confusion.
The consequences can be tragic: In Iran, one of the worst affected countries, more than 210 people died from drinking adulterated alcohol after it circulated online that it could treat or avoid COVID-19, the official Irna agency reported.
Dangerous false remedies dismantled by the . include the consumption of volcanic ash and UV lamps or bleach, which according to health authorities can be harmful.
Another remedy that “kills the coronavirus”, according to misleading publications is social media, is to drink colloidal silver (made up of silver nanoparticles).
“I am preparing colloidal silver. I have asthma, does it really work? (…). Does it help if I take a teaspoon a day?” Asks Michelle in a public Facebook group, next to a photo of a water jug with a metal rod inside.
Side effects of taking colloidal silver can include skin discoloration and poor absorption of some medications, such as antibiotics, the US National Institutes of Health says.
But this does not discourage some people. An Australian who says he is used to buying the concoction told . that it has been “sold out in his city … but before the virus, he could always buy it.”
Taking cocaine or drinking a little bleach are also some of the tips that circulate on the internet. “No, cocaine does NOT protect against # COVID-19,” the French government tweeted in response.
– A hit for business –
Panic-driven shopping leaves supermarket shelves empty in many countries, but some Indian merchants and farmers have had the opposite problem: People avoid their products due to false information.
Some traders in New Delhi told . that they had stocked up on Chinese-made products such as toy guns, wigs, and other accessories before Holi, the festival of colors that was held earlier this month.
But “misinformation about Chinese products, that they could transmit the coronavirus, caused a drop in sales of around 40% compared to the previous year,” said Vipin Nijhawan of the Indian Toy Association.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has ensured that the virus does not last long on inanimate surfaces, making it unlikely that imported products can transmit the coronavirus even if contaminated.
– Medicines for the heart –
The rapid dissemination of information online causes the most anxious patients to take unnecessary risks when they hear scientists argue about theories not yet proven.
The confusion was sparked by a series of letters and theoretical papers published in scientific journals as to whether some types of heart medications may increase the chance of developing a severe form of COVID-19.
This has prompted health authorities across Europe and the United States to recommend that cardiac patients, who are already at increased risk of contracting the disease, continue taking the medications.
Carolyn Thomas, who runs a blog for women with heart disease, said that dozens of readers have contacted her for advice after seeing tweets warning against angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers. .
“Until I see my cardiologist, I continue to take the medications, although I wonder if they increase my vulnerability to contracting the virus,” says Thomas, who has self-isolated at home in Canada. “I’m afraid to take them and I’m afraid to stop.”
Professor Garry Jennings, medical adviser to the Australian Heart Foundation, says these articles “were based on a number of controversial factors” and warns that if patients stop taking the medication they could have a heart attack and die.
“In the absence of other evidence and knowing that these medications are beneficial … it’s not a good idea to stop doing it,” he stresses.
In the United States, a man died from taking chloroquine phosphate. This inhabitant heard President Donald Trump praise him as a possible “remedy,” “a godsend,” and he took too much of an aquarium cleaner that killed him.