The coronavirus pandemic is not the only one spreading from person to person and causing sickness and death. But they could go hand in hand during this time of uncertainty.
Researchers call this global spread an infodemic or an oversupply of information, loaded with conspiracy theories, rumors, and fake news, putting people in harm's way. Wrong information and unhelpful advice spread to friends and family and even to strangers.
Although infodemic happens almost all the time, it is especially alarming during the COVID-19 pandemic as it amplifies and extends the already grave danger of the coronavirus.
COVID-19-Related Rumors, Fake News, and Conspiracy Theories
An international team of infectious disease researchers conducted a study on infodemic by scouring social media and news websites to monitor the COVID-19-related information dissemination and misinformation on online platforms.
They were able to gather 2,300 reports about COVID-19 that are either rumors, stigma, or a conspiracy theory. These so-called reports were communicated in 25 languages from 87 countries.
Of all this information, not a single one was helpful even though they intended to be. Instead, all of them are harmful to readers. There are also some cases that it has become lethal, which leads to preventable death and injury of many people.
For instance, there was a report in Iran of alcohol poisoning in more than 5,000 people with over 700 deaths, and 60 have been blinded after rumors have spread that methanol can cure COVID-19. Their case is considered to be the worst infodemic-related death and injury.
Moreover, Turkey has also become victims of infodemic, claiming 30 lives. In Qatar, two men succumbed to death after ingesting either a disinfectant solution or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
A similar event also happened in India after a dozen people became ill after drinking alcohol made from datura seeds after seeing a report social media that it can boost immunity against COVID-19. Among these people are five children.
What's worse is the possibility that there could be more cases of infodemic as not all of its casualties ended up being reported in the media. Yet, more twisted ideas are continuously shared, say the researchers.
These ideas can either kill, cure, or prevent coronavirus- things like drinking bleach or cow urine and dung, ingesting silver solution or spraying the whole body with chlorine.
The researchers added that amid all these misinformation, evenly, the relatively harmless mistruths can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Other Types of Misinformation During the Pandemic
But the infodemic is not exclusive to the cure of coronavirus. Many of them also talk about the origins of the coronavirus, transmission, and who is to blame for the pandemic.
The list includes: coronavirus as a type of rabies, mobile phones transmitting the virus, coronavirus coming from a laboratory in China, coronavirus is manufactured by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a lot more.
The researchers acknowledge that their study has limitations and that it needs a follow-up. But with all the reported cases of misinformation, this only shows that infodemic is accessible in different platforms, most notably the social media.
They urge health agencies to track COVID-related misinformation immediately and engage local communities and government stakeholders to stop misinformation.
The researchers published their findings in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
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