In this week’s roundup of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week, we focus on false and misleading reports spreading online around the new coronavirus outbreak, a situation the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic.”
China attempted to contain COVID-19 that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 through travel restrictions and city lockdowns, but the virus has now spread to 50 countries and infected more than 83,000 people.
False posts online have distorted symptoms of the virus and peddled miracle cures. Members of the public are urged to follow the advice of established institutions like WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to beware of claims suggesting ways to prevent the virus.
Here are some of the claims spreading online, and the facts you need to know about them.
CLAIM: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people shave off facial hair to protect against the new coronavirus.
THE FACTS: Reports that the CDC published an infographic recommending that men shave their beards to protect against the coronavirus circulated widely as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased to 60 in the U.S. The CDC did not release this graphic in relation to preventing the new coronavirus, nor did the agency recommend that people shave off their facial hair to protect against it. The graphic dates to 2017 and depicts the types of facial hair that do and do not work well when wearing filtering facepiece respirators. Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC, told the AP in an email that the graphic “was developed several years ago and is intended for professionals who wear respirators for worker protection. CDC does not recommend the routine use of respirators outside of workplace settings (in the community).” In the midst of the new coronavirus outbreak, many people began wearing masks to cover their nose and mouth. In most cases, they are surgical masks, as opposed to more advanced respiratory masks. Surgical masks are loose-fitting, compared to tight fitting N95 respirators. Surgical masks also don’t fully protect people from inhaling smaller airborne particles, unlike respirators which filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles. The CDC also notes that when it comes to the new coronavirus people should only wear a face mask if they’re experiencing symptoms or are being investigated for possibly having the virus.
CLAIM: Everyone should ensure that their mouth and throat is moist and never dry. Take sips of water every 15 minutes because even if the virus gets into your mouth by drinking water or liquids, it will wash the virus down through your esophagus and into your stomach where your stomach acid will kill the virus.
THE FACTS: Drinking water prevents dehydration but will not prevent anyone from catching the new coronavirus. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said the claims are incorrect. While medical professionals typically recommend keeping up fluid intake, Schaffner said drinking more water will not keep anyone from catching the virus. We always caution anyone healthy and people who are sick to keep up fluid intake and keep mucus membranes moist,” he said. “It makes you feel better; there is no clear indication that it directly protects you against complications.”
CLAIM: Garlic can help cure the new coronavirus.
THE FACTS: There is no evidence that garlic cures the virus. While garlic does have antimicrobial properties, WHO said that there is no evidence that eating garlic will help with the virus.
CLAIM: Chlorine dioxide will help get rid of the new virus from China.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against ingesting the bleaching agent. As news spread about the outbreak, social media accounts began promoting the idea that drinking chlorine dioxide or related products with names like Miracle Mineral Solution would help wipe out the virus. The FDA told The Associated Press in a statement that they do not recommend ingesting this product. “We understand people are concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus and we urge people to talk to their health care provider about treatment options, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness,” the agency said. The FDA warns that drinking the product can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and symptoms of severe dehydration.
CLAIM: Surgical masks protect against the new coronavirus.
THE FACTS: Medical masks alone cannot protect against being infected with the new coronavirus. WHO advised that the masks should be worn by those showing symptoms of coughing and difficulty breathing, so they don’t spread disease to others. There is no evidence that masks protect people who are not sick.
CLAIM: The new coronavirus can cause 50 percent fibrosis of the lungs.
THE FACTS: False. Experts say there is no evidence that the new virus causes fibrosis. Dr. Robert Legare Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, said patients have not been shown to have fibrosis, which occurs when lung tissue begins scarring. The virus has been known in more serious cases to cause pneumonia, severe respiratory syndrome or kidney failure, but not fibrosis. People who are suffering from coronavirus may see symptoms in as little two to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said he has not seen studies indicating that after patients recover from the new coronavirus, they suffer serious lung damage. “The vast majority of people get better,” he said.
CLAIM: Colloidal silver products can help prevent or protect against the new coronavirus from China.
THE FACTS: The silver solution has no known benefits in the body when it is ingested, according to officials with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a federal scientific research agency. Colloidal silver is made up of silver particles suspended in a liquid. The liquid solution is often pushed as a miracle solution to boost the immune system and cure diseases. Experts have long said the solution has no known health benefits and can cause serious side effects. The FDA has taken action against companies promoting colloidal silver products with misleading claims.
CLAIM: Lysol “knew” of the new coronavirus before the outbreak happened.
THE FACTS: While Lysol products have labels that state they disinfect against “Human coronavirus,” it is not a specific reference to the new coronavirus that emerged in China in December. The current virus is part of a large family of viruses that can range from the common cold to SARS, a viral respiratory illness that spread to two dozen countries in 2003 before being contained. According to Lysol’s website, specific Lysol products have demonstrated that they are effective against viruses similar to 2019-nCoV on hard, non-porous surfaces.
CLAIM: Symptoms of new coronavirus include vomiting blood.
THE FACTS: In late January, a video circulated on Facebook with a caption saying that a man on a train in China began vomiting blood after being infected with the new coronavirus. The video was actually a year old and showed the man battling liver cancer. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
CLAIM: Coronavirus changes the color of human blood.
THE FACTS: A video surfaced on social media of a man claiming to be a scientist who was said to be sampling blood for the new coronavirus. The video, which circulated widely on TikTok, showed a man in a lab coat supposedly testing two blood samples. He showed one sample in a test tube saying the blood looked “bright red, healthy and clear.” He then showed a sample from what he describes as “patient zero” where the blood appeared purple. The creator of the video said it was meant to be satire.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
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