Now more than ever, we all need to be savvy when it comes to online searches and sharing information on social media. Conspiracy theorists, science denialists, snake oil salesmen and pseudoscience have always been rampant online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has unified these forces to create confusion and distrust of experts. The World Health Organization dubbed this an ‘infodemic,’ which captures the nonstop media reports and breaking news headlines that infiltrate all of our feeds.
Before sharing posts on social media or trusting information online, it helps to ask yourself some basic questions: What is the source and is it reputable? What is the quality of evidence to support these claims? Is the person profiting from products or services linked to their claims? Does it sound too good to be true? Is it an outlier from what others are reporting?
Here are some common myths circulating online, which are listed as facts in an attempt to prevent any misunderstanding. Many of these are baseless, others use limited data to make wide-ranging claims. Regardless, they can all either lead to direct harm or distract from public health recommendations that help keep us safe.
There are no proven treatments or cures for COVID-19. Many clinical trials are underway, but evidence thus far is lacking. Early anecdotes for hydoxychloroquine, an anti-malaria treatment, have not panned out when studied appropriately, showing lack of efficacy and harm in some. This is one example of why it is so important to not rely on anecdotes during this time.
You cannot ‘boost’ your immune system to prevent COVID-19. This is a marketing claim used to sell products or services. Our immune systems are robust and stay strong through good sleep, exercise, an overall health diet, and reducing stress and alcohol intake. Vitamins, supplements, and specific foods are not capable of targeting the parts of our immune system that fight off viruses. There is also no vaccine available for COVID-19.
Drinking disinfectant or bleach will not treat or prevent COVID-19. This is extremely harmful and not helpful in any way. Calls to poison control centers increased dramatically when this recommendation was spread wide and far.
5G technology is not causing or spreading COVID-19. Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or speaks. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces. Viruses cannot travel on radio waves, mobile networks, or through wireless internet.
Sunlight and high temperatures will not prevent COVID-19 infection. This global pandemic is affecting people in all types of climate and weather.
COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites or other insects. It is transmitted from respiratory droplets of humans.
UV radiation should not be used on your skin. While certain forms of UV light may kill coronavirus on surfaces, it can seriously damage your skin and eyes. UV light is a major cause of skin cancer.
Antibody testing does not show if someone is immune to COVID-19. Unfortunately, we still don’t know how to interpret antibody levels after someone has been infected, why some people generate more of an antibody response, how long these antibodies last, or what levels indicate someone may be immune from future infection.
Celebrities and social media influencers rarely have expertise to offer medical advice. A large number of followers does not equate to knowledge. Rely on actual medical experts for medical information.
While it is frustrating to see information and medical advice change, or even contradict previous recommendations, this is actually a good thing. Science is meant to evolve as new information accumulates. It would be backwards to rely upon initial recommendations when new information may show us a better path. Stay safe, be well, take breaks from being online - we will get through this.
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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