(Photo credits: Reporters Without Borders)
Fake news, alternative facts, pseudo-science … we live in a time when misinformation – both malicious and mischievous – is spread not only via social media but also by traditional news outlets and even by our politicians and leaders.
Such falsehoods can be intentional: newspapers – even the most esteemed titles – now routinely employ exaggerated headlines and run click bait stories to boost readership numbers and so pull in advertising dollars.
They can be accidental: we all love gossip, and are more likely to pass on the more outlandish and sensational stories that come our way via Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, or circulate “news” that confirms what we already believe. And studies show that we are all suckers for repetition, which makes fake facts appear to be significantly more true than they really are.
While such flights of fancy can be relatively harmless (and even entertaining: “Body of Homeless Man Identified as Elvis Presley”; “Mini-Mermaid Found In Tuna Sandwich”), untruths in the time of Covid-19 can be dangerous. Having access to accurate information is not only important, but could save lives.
At the time of writing, with confirmed Covid-19 infections numbering 5.9 million and deaths closing in on 370,000 globally, many crackpot remedies are making the rounds, sewing confusion and anxiety. Not only must we find ways of coping with the pandemic, but we must also protect ourselves from what has been dubbed an “info-demic” of fake news.
So, in an attempt to sort facts from fibs, we at Catalyst have not only trawled the Internet to debunk the most commonly distributed deceptions, but also to reveal just how those falsehoods have captured the popular imagination.
WORD FROM ON HIGH SAYS BLEACH IS THE ANSWER
We know we are living in strange times when the world’s most powerful man – who enjoys unparalleled access to our planet’s most accomplished scientists and epidemiologists – suggests we might protect ourselves from a disease by injecting a household cleaning product.
That’s what happened in April when, during a White House briefing, US President Donald Trump appeared to propose that bleach could be the answer to the pandemic, declaring, “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? So it'd be interesting to check that."
The Donald was, of course, swiftly condemned by the medical community, with many scrambling to inform the public that bleach and other poisonous potions could permanently damage our internal organs through chemical burning.
One doctor, Harvard-trained pulmonologist Dr. Vin Gupta, told NBC News, “This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it's dangerous. It's a common method that people utilize when they want to kill themselves.”
CAN CHOWING DOWN ON SPICY FOODS KEEP ME SAFE?
(Photo credits: Clip Art Library)
While multiple studies indicate a possible link between the consumption of garlic and reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, and with boosting the immune system, and that spicy foods can kickstart the metabolism and encourage gut health, no such study has proven their efficacy against Covid-19.
One study allegedly showed that garlic had inhibitory effects on a coronavirus (“a” being the important word here), but not on Covid-19, which is new discovery in the coronavirus family of diseases. That study was performed on a chicken embryo, not on humans. (Garlic has, however, been proven down the centuries as an effective deterrent against vampires, while excessive consumption can be harmful to one’s love life.)
YAY, SUMMER’S HERE! SO WE’RE ALL SAVED!
The new coronavirus kicked in during winter months in the northern hemisphere. It was likely wishful thinking on the part of some global decision-makers to announce that its murderous march would be over by spring.
The White House claimed in April that “emerging" data indicated warmer, more humid weather would diminish the threat of the virus, though the World Health Organization (WHO) refuted such claims. The fact that countries with all kinds of climates (Brazil, Iran, Spain …) have been hit hard by Covid-19 also suggests we should not rely on the seasons.
HOT AIR FROM A HAND-DRYER KILL’S THE BUG, RIGHT?
(Photo credits: Do2Learn)
Various sources have reported daft claims that bathroom hand-dryers can destroy the coronavirus, with a widely circulated video (since widely removed) even advising that we should regularly blast hot air into the mouth and up the nose for 30 seconds.
There is zero scientific evidence behind this claim, which has been debunked by the WHO. The idea was likely the result of an overactive imagination extrapolating the “hot countries/summer weather” fix.
That said, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water – and drying them completely after washing – is accepted as essential to stemming the spread of the virus. Wet hands transmit germs more efficiently than dry hands, though research shows that paper towels are better than dryers at removing water hygienically, partly because they work more quickly.
AND I’VE HEARD RUMOURS THAT 5G TOWERS ARE TO BLAME
(Photo credits: Quora)
Now we really are moving into X-Files territory.
This bizarre theory claims that electromagnetic emissions from 5G antennas weaken the human immune system and have been responsible for the pandemic. This belief has fueled attacks on mobile towers across Europe and in the UK.
As with earlier cellular networks, 5G relies on radio waves. Unlike nuclear radiation, such waves are non-ionizing, however, meaning they do not have enough energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules in the human body.
The 5G-Covid-19 theory should be seen simply as just another example of humanity’s occasional but irrational fear of the new.
In Victorian England, many people were terrified by rail travel, with Queen Victoria insisting that no train she travelled on should move faster than 20 miles per hour. A visiting Shah of Persia was even more cautious, his doctors advising that if he travelled that quickly he would surely suffocate.
CAN ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT TREAT COVID-19 IN HUMANS?
When William Bryan of the US Department of Homeland Security pointed in April to new research that suggested solar light was powerful in killing the coronavirus, President Trump leaped on the idea, musing about employing ultraviolet light for treatment in humans. The research, however, only noted that light had shown positive results in combating the virus on the surfaces of objects and in the air.
On the whole, medical experts warn against human exposure to UV radiation, which can cause skin and eye damage, and sunburns linked to skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both advise it is preferable to clean hands either with soap and water or with an alcohol-based solution.
IS HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE PROVEN TO TREAT COVID-19?
Although taking this anti-malaria drug is unlikely to cause any lasting harm, it does have known side effects. They include headaches, stomach cramps and hair loss, but most notably of all – zero known protection against coronavirus.
So who is to blame for this useless piece of hope-for-the-best misinformation?
It all started in early March, when a group of scientists in France, decided to check if hydroxychloroquine might prove useful in battling Covid-19. Word soon reached Fox News, which jumped the gun and claimed a “100% cure rate”.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk then tweeted an admittedly non-committal “Maybe worth considering” to his 33 million followers, and soon the US president was on a two-week course of the drug because he had “heard a lot of good stories.”
File under, “You couldn’t make it up.”
ONLY OLD FOLK NEED WORRY, AND I’M JUST STARTING OUT
As previously mentioned, Covid-19 is a new disease (as in, new to our knowledge), so we are still attempting to fully understand its nature, how it is spread, who is most susceptible to it and why.
However, early data gleaned from across the world by the WHO shows that older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (the two frequently going together) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. In the US and in the UK, disproportionate numbers of people have died in nursing homes (reportedly up to 25 per cent of all deaths in New York, for instance).
ONE WAY TO KILL THE CORONAVIRUS ON SURFACES IS WITH A BLAST OF INTENSE SUNLIGHT.
The WHO stresses, however, that younger people are still susceptible to the virus and should take all necessary precautions against exposure, including social distancing and the regular washing of hands.
Not exactly true. Sunlight consists of three types of ultraviolet light, with UVA and UVB respectively causing photo-aging (wrinkles), sunburn and even cancers in human skin. The third type, UVC, does not reach the Earth's surface because it is cut out by the ozone layer. And that's fortunate because UVC is the most dangerous of all, being capable of destroying genetic material.
Scientists discovered this in the 19th century, and UVC has since been harnessed as a means of sterilization in medical and industrial environments. Though no studies have been made on UVC's effect on Covid-19, it has been proven to kill other coronaviruses. The dangers involved in UVC's usage, however, make it an unwise choice outside the laboratory.
A far better and more practical method of maintaining phone and device hygiene is simple soap and water, followed by an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Take an everyday item like a cellphone or an iPad as an example. By protecting your device with a waterproof Catalyst case you can fully submerge it under running water, and clean it effectively every time you wash your hands. You can then disinfect the cover with confidence using an alcohol solution containing at least 70% alcohol.
IN SUMMARY: SEEING IS NOT ALWAYS FOR BELIEVING
Finally, it’s worth double-checking everything you read about coronavirus online for accuracy.
Not only is the Internet awash with fake news (the Churchill quote that starts this article is very possibly a hoax, and has also been attributed to Mark Twain, among others), but the situation is fluid and changing as we learn more about Covid-19 with every day.