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Fionola Meredith

Be sensible and ignore social media idiots now spreading bogus and bad health 'advice'

Fionola Meredith

People sending out misinformation about coronavirus are morally irresponsible, says Fionola Meredith


Despite what some would have us believe, there's no reason to deny yourself ice cream

Despite what some would have us believe, there's no reason to deny yourself ice cream

Despite what some would have us believe, there's no reason to deny yourself ice cream

There is a message currently being widely shared on Facebook which offers advice on "what you can do to safeguard yourself" against the coronavirus. In the short voice recording, an unidentified woman, citing unattributed medical guidance, says people can ward off the coronavirus by avoiding eating or drinking cold things, and by taking zinc.

Her number one tip is to take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes, in order to wash the virus, if present, into the stomach, where - she says - it will be killed by stomach acid.

Why should we believe this? Well, because the unknown woman tells us she has "heard the same thing from a lot of sources so it seems to me this is now very credible advice".

In fact, it's complete and utter rubbish. Pure hocus pocus. You might as well tell people to fight the virus by boiling up a cauldron of frog toes and snake eyes, straining it, then consuming the liquid at regular intervals throughout the day.

Staying hydrated is a reasonable general health practice. But, as Professor Trudie Lang of the University of Oxford - you know, a real expert, not some faceless randomer on Facebook - recently told the BBC, there is "no biological mechanism" that would support the idea that you can simply wash a respiratory virus down into your stomach and kill it.

If it was just a case of swigging hot water, then we wouldn't have a global pandemic on our hands, would we?

Another social media post that has circulated throughout the world, wrongly attributed to Unicef, also has the hot water nonsense, plus the advice to avoid cold food stuffs like ice cream.

Charlotte Gornitzka, Unicef's specialist on coronavirus misinformation, says the notion that avoiding ice cream can help prevent the onset of coronavirus is "of course, wholly untrue".

So good news, you don't need to deny yourself the mint choc-chip - after all, it's at times like this that comfort food really comes into its own.

It may seem incredible that anyone would take such unsolicited, unsubstantiated instruction seriously, let alone pass it on to others. But fear does funny things to people.

When our everyday lives have been completely upended, and hysteria is rarely far below the surface, it's not surprising that reason and good sense flies out the window.

Many of us feel helpless, confined in our homes, bombarded with frightening news updates. So if a message pings in from a trusted friend or family member, telling us we can save ourselves by slurping hot liquids every few minutes or giving up the ice cream sundaes, it's not hard to see why some people succumb - and perpetuate the chain of misinformation by passing it on to others.

But let's be clear - this bogus health advice is dangerous and sharing it is morally irresponsible.

It's much more harmful than the other conspiracy guff out there, such as coronavirus being caused by 5G technology damaging people's immune systems in Wuhan, where the virus originated, thus making them more susceptible to the common cold. (There is zero evidence connecting the new coronavirus to 5G.)

The reason why it's especially wrong to pass on evidence-free medical "advice" is because it offers people false reassurance: if they take these steps, they will be safe.

This could easily lead to complacency about essential measures like hand-washing and social distancing. And that could lead to infection with the virus itself and the spread of that infection, which will only fuel the pandemic.

Dr Joshua Wolrich, an NHS surgical doctor who often debunks medical myths, has called for it to stop.

"Misinformation doesn't keep people safe, it just confuses and creates distrust when official guidance doesn't match," he says.

Wolrich also warns against chowing down food supplements like zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, elderberry, colloidal silver or anything else, in the hope of out-foxing the virus.

"It's all incorrect and potentially harmful," adds Dr Wolrich.

Tom Phillips, the editor of Full Fact, the UK's independent fact-checking charity, urges people to think before they share, thus making them less likely to pass on bad information that puts family and friends at greater risk.

"We face a global public health crisis in the age of unprecedented and rampant misinformation," he writes. "Good health advice can make the difference between life and death."

Meanwhile, bad health advice - transmitted instantly from device to device - is spreading faster than coronavirus. So next time someone passes on the secret tips that will supposedly protect you from the pandemic, you know where they belong: in the bin.

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