COVID-19 Is Bad Enough, Fake News Is Making It Worse and Deadlier

These messages may or may not be harmful, but they create a false sense of security which is dangerous, says Dr Ray.

Updated
WebQoof
4 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

In early April, 12 people in a village in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district fell seriously ill and had to be hospitalised after they drank juice made of Datura seeds, believing a TikTok video, which claimed it will protect them from COVID-19.

In another incident, a pharmacist died after he drank a chemical preparation, which he thought would cure coronavirus.

That’s how fatal a forwarded WhatsApp message or a post on social media can be!

According to a study published in The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, at least 800 people have died globally and over 5,800 people have been hospitalised due to unproven, unscientific claims of COVID cures and prevention.

The study, which was conducted between 31 December 2019 to 5 April 2020, also mentions that about 60 people developed complete blindness after consuming methanol, believing it was a cure for the novel coronavirus.

It must be noted that, as per the citation provided in the study, most of the data comes out of the mass poisoning which happened in Iran.

And one of the studies that the paper quotes has suggested that it is unclear whether Iranians drank “unadulterated alcohol” for recreational purposes or because they thought it would treat COVID.

HOW HARMFUL IS HEALTH MISINFORMATION?

Doctors say that these messages create a false sense of security and can be dangerous.

Speaking to The Quint, Dr Sumit Ray, Head of Department, Critical Care Medicine at Holy Family Hospital said that these messages may or may not harm an individual but they can prompt a person to not follow the measures which will actually protect them.

“Social media messages about protecting yourself from coronavirus have ranged from stupid, to the hilarious to the downright dangerous. Though these may or may not harm you, but the fact is that they can give you a false sense of security and make you not do the things which can actually protect you from the infection.”
Dr Sumit Ray, Head of Department, Critical Care Medicine, Holy Family Hospital

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE SHARING THESE MESSAGES?

These claims are not restricted to a few thousand users on social media.

In case of the coronavirus, they have been amplified by leaders in positions of power across the world.

  • US President Donald Trump said injecting people with disinfectants or exposure to sunlight could cure COVID-19
  • BJP Assam MLA Suman Haripriya said cow urine was a possible cure
  • Yoga guru Ramdev suggested applying mustard oil through the nostrils
  • And the pseudo doctors on WhatsApp suggested ways to self-diagnose COVID

All of these are unfounded claims that are not based on any scientific evidence.

BJP MLA  Suman Haripriya had suggested that cow urine was a possible cure for the coronavirus.
BJP MLA Suman Haripriya had suggested that cow urine was a possible cure for the coronavirus.
(Photo: The Quint)

COVID RELATED MISINFORMATION HAS FUELLED VIOLENCE

Misinformation fuelled by rumours has also led to violence against health workers.

Remember the viral video from Indore, that showed people attacking healthcare workers with stones?

Healthcare workers were attacked in Indore’s Taatpatti Bakhal in April. 
Healthcare workers were attacked in Indore’s Taatpatti Bakhal in April. 
(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Reportedly, that also happened because of messages that started doing the rounds on WhatsApp, claiming that health workers were injecting people with the virus. Dr Trupti, who was part of the team that was attacked, says these unverified messages contributed to the violence.

“We were screening in that area for about three to four days. And everything was going smoothly. We had gone there for a positive patient’s contact tracing. We called him and said that we are here, but he didn’t come, his mother did. I was talking to her, when we heard people say ‘maaro maaro’ and there was a mob and people started throwing stones and were abusing us.”
Dr Trupti Katdare, Medical Officer

“Next day, when we went there, we found out that it was because of wrong messages on WhatsApp. They got the message that doctors will come and inject you with the coronavirus, after which they will take you to a quarantine facility and kill you. This is how they were misguided that’s why they were so aggressive,” she added.

This is one of the many incidents of mob violence in India due to misleading and fake forwards.

So, to fight this virus, fight misinformation. Follow your doctor's advice if you fall sick and not the advice you receive on WhatsApp. Verify every bit of information that you receive about the virus. Exercise caution and be safe.

(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the story did not mention that most of the deaths which were reported were out of Iran and that the cause of the death wasn’t just misinformation. However, the emphasis is on the fact that misinformation related to COVID-19 is highly dangerous and even the United Nations has recognised the spread of “fake news” as a threat to human life. The omission is regretted.)

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9643651818, or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

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