As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, the fake cures, hoaxes and conspiracies theories are popping up almost as fast as new cases. The bottom line is simple: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
While many of these hoaxes are just plain, some are very dangerous. For example, chlorine dioxide kits sold under names such as Miracle Mineral Solution or MMS, are being sold as a cure-all for everything from AIDS to the coronavirus. The problem is that the kits, which contain a bottle of sodium chlorite and a bottle of an “activator” such as citric acid, are mixed together to form chlorine dioxide – which is another name for industrial bleach. It’s not hard to imagine what can happen to the body after imbibing bleach. Besides the intense vomiting and diarrhea, it can also lead to death. There is no evidence that this product cures anything.
Televangelist Jim Bakker is promoting Silver Solution dietary supplements which he claims can cure the coronavirus “within 12 hours.” These supplements contain a “patented nano-silver solution” or “purified silver” which proponents say can cure the virus. While there is no proof for these claims, there is proof that when taken orally, the ingredients in this potion pose the risk of causing argyria, a condition that causes the skin to permanently gray or blue discoloration.
Then there’s the essential oil cures. This article used satire to report on a woman named Lindsey Harper, who calls herself a Diamond Platinum Elite Gold Club Sales Manager for a national essential oils company., who sent essential oil care packages to China. Harper claims that lavender, lemon, hibiscus, and peppermint oil can wipe out the coronavirus. What proof does she have that this is true? None. But that’s not stopping her from exhorting Christian wives to send the oils to China so that “coronavirus can be eradicated within the week.”
Claims that oregano oil can cure the coronavirus are also recirculating even though those claims were debunked years ago.
Another unsubstantiated claim suggests that rubbing sesame oil on the skin will block the infection. If that doesn’t work, try applying a drop of the oil in each nostril in the morning to keep you safe from the virus. Neither claim is true.
Garlic is also being touted as a cure. Here’s a recipe that is being circulated on social media: “Good news, Wuhan’s corona virus can be cured by one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water. Old Chinese doctor has proven its efficacy. Many patients has [sic] also proven this to be effective. Eight (8) cloves of chopped garlics add seven (7) cups of water and bring to boil. Eat and drink the boiled garlic water, overnight improvement and healing. Glad to share this.” No evidence of the “overnight improvement and healing” is provided. Although garlic does have some antimicrobial qualities, there is no evidence that it can cure anything, let alone the coronavirus.
The Megavitamin Man, aka Andrew Saul, is marketing his own cure – Vitamin C. “The coronavirus pandemic can be dramatically slowed, or stopped completely, with the immediate widespread use of high doses of vitamin C,” he claims. Even though studies have shown Vitamin C to be effective in shortening the course of a cold, there is no evidence that it can cure the coronavirus.
As hokey as it all might sound, there is grave danger in the misinformation that has been circulating on the Internet, generated mostly by people with no medical or scientific background who have no qualms about “playing doctor” online. They reel in their readers by circulating elaborate conspiracy theories such as how the coronavirus is a man-made virus, that the U.S. government created the virus and patented a vaccine for it years ago, that the pharmaceutical companies are ignoring natural cures because they want to make money on vaccines, etc.
In an interview with NPR, Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, warned that the spreading of these fake coronavirus cures and conspiracy fear-mongering could undermine efforts to curb the epidemic and actually worsen its impact.
“If segments of the public turn to false treatments rather than follow the advice of trusted sources for avoiding illness (like frequent hand-washing with soap and water), it could cause ‘the disease to travel further and faster than it ordinarily would have’,” Chakravorti said.
Social media platforms like Facebook are now removing content that contains bogus cures as well as “false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them,” the company said in a statement. “We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm.”
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