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Coronavirus Supplements, Really?

The only cure for COVID-19 "treatments" on social media is a healthy dose of skepticism.

Unfortunately, ''remedies" for the COVID-19 pandemic are plentiful and easy to find online. In reality, there is (as yet) no cure or vaccine for the condition. But you wouldn't guess that by looking at social media.

One popular post advises drinking water every few minutes to ''flush out" the virus, while another oft-shared suggestion involves blasting hot air from your blow dryer up your nose, alternating the blasts with mists of water.

But that's just a start. The ideas are endless and conflicting, and those who post them often dig in their heels when the advice is challenged as irresponsible and without merit.

Real versus fake news

Ferreting out the valid information from the bogus can be difficult, made more so while our global population is anxious and stressed in this era of social isolation and lockdowns. But even with false information about Coronavirus at epidemic levels, we're here to help you stay smart, safe, and sane.

Everyone needs good information about COVID-19 prevention, but experts studying the virus and the outcome say this applies especially to those with an underlying condition—and that includes diabetes. Those with diabetes (as well as other chronic conditions) have a higher than average risk of developing complications and getting very sick if they get infected.

What possesses people to post the outlandish information on social media, often not credited to anyone more reputable than my sister's friend's friend?

"I think people are desperately looking to gain a sense of control,'' says Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, MPH, a senior psychologist at Northwell Health, in Lake Success, NY. And that perception of control may matter less to them than whether the information they spread is correct or not, she says.

"We have to recognize that a higher level of anxiety is the general state of affairs at the moment. When that happens, reactions may not be typical. People are looking at ways to make sense of something that doesn't make sense."

False information is dangerous in a pandemic

"In the beginning of the epidemic, people were talking about having Coronavirus parties to get it, similar to the idea of chicken pox parties before the vaccine was available," Warner-Cohen says. "That idea has fortunately died out."

But unfounded ideas still float around. One of the most outlandish and dangerous is the aforementioned YouTube video suggesting that people blast hot air from a hair dryer up their nose. The premise is that the virus can't live in a high-temperature environment. The claim has been roundly dismissed by the World Health Organization and others and criticized as being not only false but dangerous. Yet, it continues to be shared by well-meaning social media users.

Other memes and posts suggest drinking water frequently (always good to stay hydrated, but water won't kill the virus), using an ultraviolet disinfection lamp to sterilize the hands, spraying alcohol all over your body, rinsing your nose with saline, taking a very hot bath, eating garlic, and taking antibiotics (they work against bacteria, not viruses).

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the avalanche of bad advice an "infodemic"

As the sketchy and dangerous information has proliferated, the World Health Organization is fighting back.  On its website, the WHO offers advice for the public in a mythbusters document, addressing some of the commonly circulating suggestions about curing the COVID-19 virus.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) addresses the spread of misinformation

Likewise, the CDC has posted extensive information on its webpage, including facts to dispel rumors and advice about how to follow the agreed upon prevention measures known to be effective—such as social distancing and hand washing.

The site also has information on cases nationwide, how to prepare your house in case you need to quarantine yourselves, and how to cope with school closures, among other details.

Social media companies step up to combat fake news about COVID-19

As the questionable sources of information continue and grow, Twitter recently posted news about expanding its safety rules, tweeting:

"Update: we’re expanding our safety rules to include content that could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19. Now, we will require people to remove Tweets that include the following content that increases the chance that someone contracts or transmits the virus, including:

  • Denial of expert guidance
  • Encouragement to use fake or ineffective treatments, preventions, and diagnostic techniques
  • Misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities"

Likewise, Facebook also recently responded to the problem, posting a lengthy overview  about how it aims to keep people safe and informed about the Coronavirus. Among the measures are their goal of removing false information and conspiracy theories flagged by health experts as inaccurate or dangerous.

Who to trust?

For a satisfying and reliable takedown of websites that favor conspiracy theories—no, the virus was not manmade in a Chinese lab—and other misinformation, check out Stat News, a respected site that recently called out some of the more outlandish and dangerous COVID-19 posts.

Health experts also recommend checking the websites of county and city departments of public health to stay up to date on what is happening in your area. Some local health departments live stream updates on Facebook.

Listen to the authorities, tune out the imposters

Warner-Cohen suggests focusing on the consistent messaging from organizations such as the WHO and the CDC. "There is a strong consensus of what we should be doing right now," she says, referring to the basic and widespread advice to stay home, avoid others, and practice good hygiene such as frequent handwashing. ''Also take social media breaks and news breaks," she says. 

As for how to respond to those posts and memes that you know are false information? She suggests posting something like, ''There is no scientific basis for this," in the comments.

 


 

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Dietary Supplements: Time to Consider What You're Really Taking
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