Misinformation virus (Coronavirus)
Columns, In Black & White

Misinformation virus (Coronavirus)

February 8, 2020

As we stepped into the New Year, we were welcomed by a new strain of Coronavirus (CoV). A virus named so because the protein spikes around the virus makes it look like a crown and in Latin corona means crown.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from common cold to severe diseases and many of the recent ones that have been fatal belong to this virus group. The last two were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

Also Coronaviruses are ‘zoonotic’, which means they are transmitted between animals and humans. All Coronaviruses are from animals — SARS jumped from civet cats to humans. MERS jumped from camels to humans. How this “jumping” happened or happens no one knows. All we know is that this jumping of animal virus to humans has a term, it is called “spillover.” The latest spillover is called novel Coronavirus and we still don’t know from which animal it spilled over to humans.

This strain of virus is so new that it does not even have an official name! ‘novel Coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCov’, where, ‘n’ stands for novel and ‘CoV’ for Coronavirus is a temporary name given by World Health Organisation (WHO). Why the prefix of “novel”?  Because this strain is literally ‘novel’, as in, it is new and does not resemble anything formerly known. But what we do know about the virus is its effects on the human body. And it seems, before it infects one’s body its effects are felt in the human mind via social media.

Initially, thanks to WhatsApp messages people thought this was all a big joke. A friend in the early weeks of January thought “Coronavirus” was a crass Hindi phrase for sex addiction as in “karona”! Then search engines reported that lakhs of people in Europe and US were googling for a virus that infects people if they drank Corona beer, the famous Mexican beer!

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Then some people were worried about their online purchases from Chinese websites such as Aliexpress.com. This was such an important query that the WHO addressed it saying, “People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting the new Coronavirus. From previous analysis, we know Coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages!”  What could be so important that one would rather risk infection and death than just cancel a purchase? Unless…

One has ordered for a packet of “Peaceful Palace Bovine Pill.” This is a traditional Chinese medicine made with the gallstone of cattle, buffalo horn, jasmine and pearl! Yes, these raw materials may seem like it is to make a beautiful rosewood coffee table with exquisite pearl inlay work, but no, it is to produce “Peaceful Palace Bovine Pill” — a recommended pill by the Chinese Government for Coronavirus, mind you! Does it work? There is no proof.

So now, it is not that embarrassing that our Government said Ayurveda, Homoeopathy and Unani could prevent Coronavirus and released a list of herbal remedies that they believe can help provide relief to patients. Of course, these old systems of medicine may work for basic health issues but speed is of essence here and traditional medicines are not exactly known for their speedy recovery or guarantee of cure.

But the most irritating of all claims of a cure is from the Garlic brigade. They will suddenly appear when you express any health concern. You say ear pain? They’ll tell you to stuff a garlic clove down your ear canal. Stomach pain? Chew some garlic cloves and swallow. Piles? Shove some crushed garlic up your bum. No petrol? Squeeze some garlic into your tank. Yes, some work, some are ridiculous.

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And as the Garlic Gang struck again sending messages that garlic was the cure for Coronavirus, the WHO was forced to clarify hastily on twitter stating, “There is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from 2019-nCoV.” They also added a hashtag #KnowtheFacts. Soon there was another cure as a British school teacher in China claimed he cured himself with hot Whiskey and Honey.

There is so much misinformation about this virus that it has become as hard as fighting the actual virus itself. Some people even spread false information by forging the WHO logos. No wonder the WHO has set up a misinformation handling cell which coordinates with social media sites.

Even in Mysuru there is confusion about the efficiency of masks and which brand of masks to buy. Now they say even the often-recommended N95 mask manufactured by 3M is not very effective! A doctor recently when asked how the medical professionals were protecting themselves, he simply said “PTG.” It stands for “Pray To God.”

So should we too just resign to PTG? Well, while the city administration has prepared itself with 5-bed isolation room at K.R. Hospital and 25-bed isolation ward at Epidemic Diseases Hospital, Metagalli, we could wash our hands often, stay away from busy-enclosed spaces and more importantly stop forwarding information about Coronavirus because  “misinformative – virals” can be more fatal than the Virus.

P.S: Visit these sites for information on Coronavirus: 1. WHO website — www.who.int  2. US Centre for Disease Control website — www.cdc.gov 3. Indian Health Ministry website — www.mohfw.gov.in

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