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Fake News Spreading Faster than Coronavirus

Fanni Kaszás 2020.03.04.

Although the first coronavirus cases in Hungary have just been identified and confirmed on Wednesday evening, a number of conspiracy theories and misinformation on the possible cures of the disease had already appeared on social media and “fake news” portals weeks ago. However, false or misleading medical advice can lead to mistreatment, further spread of the disease, panic and fear-mongering, and also presents a challenge to authorities. We have gathered some of these to prevent further spread of misinformation.

Hoaxes spreading on social media

According to Business Insider, millions of tweets have spread dangerous conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. Many posts involve hoaxes about the outbreak’s origins, speculating that it was created as a bio-weapon or to initiate an economic war on China. Some included racist comments as well, which comes at a time of increasing xenophobia against people of East Asian appearance around the world due to the spread of the virus. On Facebook, a letter “by an Italian doctor” went viral, which also caused concerns as the post contained a dozen of inaccurate and dangerous misinformation and prevention methods.

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Fake news portals started to publish panic-mongering pieces weeks ago

Long before the official announcement on the first coronavirus cases in Hungary, fake news portals had already been spreading rumors that there were confirmed cases in Hungary; furthermore, that there are even deaths caused by the disease.

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To end this and to provide reliable information to the public, the government has launched its information website on koronavirus.gov.hu, where Hungarians can follow the number of infected people, those who are treated from the disease, deceased, quarantined, and tested. They also provide info-graphics and information on the hospitals, quarantines, and the new actions of the operative team of the Ministry of Interior.

MTI/Czeglédi Zsolt

Misinformation on possible cures for the disease

WHO gathered some of the fake news and misinformation about the coronavirus and its “possible cures.” They call everyone’s attention to the fact that antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections. As the new coronavirus is caused by a virus, antibiotics do not work on them, nor do they prevent catching the virus. Hand dryers, ultraviolet lamps, or any form of heaters are also not effective ways to kill the virus, just like drinking or rubbing yourself in alcohol. Rinsing your nose with saline, drinking a lot of hot water or tea, eating garlic, or rubbing yourself in sesame oil are also ineffective ways to prevent catching the disease.

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Experts say pets can’t catch coronavirus

Although there were reports of a dog that tested positive in Hong Kong last week, experts agree that pets are almost definitely not able to catch the virus. For the first time since the spread of the disease, samples from a dog’s nasal and oral cavities had tested “weak positive” for the new coronavirus COVID-19. The pet had no symptoms of the disease and was put into quarantine, and tested again. However, experts and WHO agree there is no evidence that cats or dogs can be infected with coronavirus. One reason for the positive test could be the coronavirus present on the surface of the dog, even if it hasn’t actually contracted the virus. Although pets can get coronaviruses, they are not at all the same as the virus associated with this current outbreak. The chance is also extremely low to catch the disease from pets, as the main way the disease is from person-to-person, when they are close to each other or from respiratory droplets.

Should people be worried about returning storks?

Migrating birds, such as storks, are also returning to their nests after spending autumn and winter in the south, which has started to worry Hungarians due to the spread of the coronavirus. In the coming weeks, experts say approximately 5000 birds will be migrating back from places where the disease may have already spread. According to Balázs Déri, the Hortobágy Bird Park’s deputy director, the storks spend the winter throughout Africa, before gathering around Israel and Turkey and returning to Europe through the Bosphorus. Although currently there is no data whether birds can passively transmit it to humans, they cannot actively infect them if they carry the virus on their surface, just like pets.

MTI/Varga György

What is more, they mainly live and nest on rooftops or pylons and cannot come into contact with humans, so the chances of catching the virus from them is relatively low. Last week, in a small village, people asked the mayor to remove the stork nest, because of its close proximity to the playground in fear of a coronavirus outbreak. However, storks stick to their same nesting places and rebuild their nests. In addition, they are highly protected, including their nests, so tampering with or removing them can result in fines or even imprisonment.

featured photo: MTI/EPA/Alex Plavevski