How to Avoid Misinformation During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has left many people feeling unsettled, vulnerable and confused about steps they should take to stay healthy and to avoid infecting others. With so much news about the pandemic changing on a daily basis, it is important to avoid consuming—or spreading—medical misinformation about unproven or dangerous treatments.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about that the current state of the COVID-19 crisis and the best ways to avoid rumors and other forms of medical misinformation:
- What is the difference between anecdotes and data, and why is that important?
Anecdotal evidence (one person’s story) is not as reliable as statistical evidence (data gathered from tens, hundreds or thousands of patients). Do not expect one person’s outcome to be predictive of your own treatment experience. Anecdotes, in the form of testimonials, can potentially be used as part of cancer treatment scams promising a miracle cure for the disease. Claims that sound too good to be true can be costly, unhelpful, and in some cases, dangerous.
- How can I tell if medical information that I come across might be unreliable, or just plain false?
During these uncertain times, there is an even greater potential for fraudulent claims for coronavirus cures. Avoid medical information that is forwarded via social media, received as part of an email chain, appears on websites dedicated to a non-medical agenda or are filled with ads for products promising quick fixes and “miracle” cures.
Medical articles that are not written by a health care practitioner, medical writer or professional journalist might actually be advertisements in disguise or part of a deliberate disinformation campaign.
- I have heard a lot of news lately about the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19. What are scientists and researchers actually saying about this drug?
Hydroxychloroquine and an older compound, chloroquine, have been used for many decades to treat malaria as well as chronic autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Preliminary studies from China and France suggested that hydroxychloroquine had some promise as a treatment for COVID-19, but the data is still extremely limited.
On April 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin and other heart medications.
It is important to note that these drugs are not meant to be taken as a preventative measure against COVID-19.
- What role do cleaning solutions and disinfectants play in the prevention of COVID-19 infection?
Disinfectants play an important role in keeping household surfaces clean, as described in the Foundation’s Food Safety During COVID-19 resource page. When using disinfectant wipes or sprays, follow label instructions carefully—they may need to stay on the surface and air dry to be effective.
DO NOT use disinfectant on any food container that has openings or vent holes—your food may become unsafe to eat. Certain cleaning products—like ammonia and bleach—should never be mixed together. Most importantly, disinfectants and cleaning solutions should never, ever be ingested or injected for any reason.
- Where can I find reliable, fact-based medical information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
The FWC website has listed a number of useful resources that are being updated on a regular basis. These links include government agencies, medical associations/institutions and gynecologic cancer support groups that are actively involved in informing the medical community and the general public about COVID-19.
For more answers to patient questions about the coronavirus pandemic, visit Answers to Cancer Patients’ Questions about COVID-19.