Mr. Gopal Rai (name changed), 74-year-old resident of Delhi was rushed to the emergency department of a hospital with complaints of palpitations and restlessness. Upon investigation, he was found to have cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart contractions) due to hydroxychloroquine ingestion. Apparently, he self-medicated himself with this drug after reading about it on Facebook.
In a similar incidence, 24 years old Rajat (name changed) was attended by emergency doctor due to severe gastritis secondary to consuming garlic -onion paste in vinegar thrice daily with hot water.
Fortunately, both Mr Gopal Rai and Rajat survived, but with a take-home message – “Fact check is important before applying any of the social media circulated COVID -19 treatment“.
“The person in the video looked like some senior doctor. The video looked very genuine and the treatment he suggested claimed to have 100% effectiveness against covid” said Rajat after getting discharged from the hospital.
With COVID crisis proving out to be an unfathomable predicament to all, fake treatment information over social media is attracting too many eyeballs.
If the reports are to be believed, the fake news circulation over 4 major social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube & Instagram) ranges from 55-60% when it comes to covid-19 treatment.
The problem is not about circulation only, but due to blind experimentation of these treatment methods, people are landing into serious health issues now. The primary example here is imprudent self-medication of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for COVID treatment based on few unconfirmed trials widely circulated over WhatsApp. Latest in this regard is a steroid named dexamethasone, which is doing rounds on facebook these days. Unsupervised and injudicious self-administration of this steroid can lead to increased blood sugar, muscle damage, swelling in legs, irritability and wound healing problems.
With social media now turning into a hub of fraudulent news related to COVID treatment, in the past four months we have seen many WhatsApp messages endorsing the use of garlic, onion, vinegar, rasam, exotic herbs, cardamom, ginger to even gold powder without any scientific basis behind them.
Now a days, people are often seen taking overdose of zinc, Vitamin C, vitamin B, Vitamin D and Calcium tablets based on some fake messages circulated over WhatsApp groups. These supplements are good for generalized health and immunity but to circulate them over social media as a cure for COVID-19 is still wrong.
Cases are even reported where people have even tried taking antiviral medicines and high-end antibiotics like Azithromycin without any medical consultation based on some video seen over Facebook.
Half knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge, this fact is well exemplified by the incidence which happened in Arizona (USA), where a person confused hydroxychloroquine with chloroquine phosphate and paid the price for ingesting the tablet meant for clearing the fish tank in lieu of hydroxychloroquine.
Sometimes these fake news and advertisements are circulated on purpose. The intention being, to scare people and drive them towards buying expensive products like face mask, sanitizers disinfectants, personal protection equipment/ kits and virus killing fabrics over cheap and easily available similar products.
Unfortunately, people fall into the trap and out of fear they succumb into buying online fake or unapproved products against Covid seen on social media.
Sometimes unintentionally we become ‘a partner in the crime’ by forwarding an ‘authentic sounding’ but fake message without checking the facts. Though the intention is pure here but we end up being a part of this fraudulent message chain.
To fight this situation, several countries like Hungary, Bulgaria & Algeria have brought out strict laws against those spreading fake news over social media. The penalty ranges from monetary punishment to even jail term.
Unfortunately, today we are caught up between the pandemic of corona and epidemic of fake news. Social media is flooded with abridged and manipulated screenshots of news anchors and popular celebrities endorsing unapproved ‘corona prevention pills’ to Ayurvedic treatment like cow urine to homemade remedies.
Also there is a rampant sale of fake masks, sanitizers and pulse oximeter (for measuring the blood oxygen level) through online and home delivery portals due to public panic.
People often recklessly forward the messages from one WhatsApp group to another without even testing the authenticity of the treatment recommended. With more than 160 million active users of WhatsApp in India, any false news can spread like a forest fire.
Medically, it is far more important to be aware of the side effects of any medicine/ayurvedic product before trying it. Most of these deceitful videos/ advertisements on facebook/whatssap claim 100% cure rate, no adverse effect and based on research by USA/UK/Japan.
India also is now coming harsh on those spreading false claim and unnecessary panic. This fact recently got enforced by the arrest of a man who was sourcing out forged messages about a possible Covid hotspot within the office campus of a famous news channel.
Let us all pledge together not to be part of this fraudulent message chain. Let’s stop being unscrupulous and halt the transformation of Facebook into ‘Fakebook’ .There is no 100% approved treatment for corona till now. Let us accept this fact and just stick to basic measures to avoid infection like use of mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing and maintaining general hygiene.
As a vigilant Indian let’s not get fooled by fake Covid treatment over social media. Let’s be careful about what we believe and what we transmit.
Best would be to do a ‘fact check’ on WhatsApp corona virus information hub or subscribe to WHO (World Health Organisation) medical updates or visit ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research ) website or UCSF fact check website or at least give a call to your family doctor before trying any remedy against Covid-19.