Science

5 new hoaxes on the coronavirus

From male infertility as a permanent side effect to “genetically resistant Africans”, the wave of misinformation and falsehood about the Wuhan virus does not stop

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(photo: Str / Afp / Getty Images)

For some weeks now the great majority of false stories circulating on social media and on the media concerns Wuhan's coronavirus and its Covid disease – 19 . Together with the evergreen conspiracy theorists on pharmaceutical companies and military maneuvers, they sprout continuously apocalyptic numerical predictions on the spread of contagion (obviously based on nothing), false myths on how to make yourself immune and shoot journalistic-politics on the verge of delusion, racism or synophobia.

In the last hours some news has also chased about Chinese doctors virus victims: According to a recent hoax, for example, the ophthalmologist Li Wenliang – who was the first to realize the danger of the disease – would not have been killed of the coronavirus but assassinated in his bed while he was fighting against the infection he had contracted. And on the director of Wuhan hospital, Liu Zhiming , the news of the alleged death due to the virus came first , then a denial and finally the sad confirmation just a few hours ago by the Chinese public television.

Among the infinite lies in circulation, we have collected here 5 other false stories, much talked about these days or emerging this week . In all probability they will not be the last at all, also because between alarmism and disinformation many are trying to exploit the wave of attention on the coronavirus to collect clicks, attract attention or influence public opinion.

1. Africans are NOT “genetically resistant” to coronavirus

According to a fake story recently appeared on the net, Chinese doctors and scientists have confirmed that the “African people” (whatever that means) have “genetic resistance” intrinsic to the coronavirus, therefore they cannot contract the disease. According to what was discovered by the debunking site Snopes , this wacky theory would have originated from an article published last Friday on the site CityScrollz (whose name is already an indication of the authority of the source), according to which a student of Cameroonian origin would have brilliantly defeated the virus without getting sick “thanks to the genetic composition of his blood , which is typical of sub-Saharan Africa “.

It is a double buffalo , both in detail and in general. In particular, the student in question, a 21 enne domiciled in China, has not had at all simple life in defeating the disease, but rather he was hospitalized for almost two weeks before being declared cured . His case was actually the first recovery ever recorded for an African citizen, and is confirmation of how the coronavirus has the potential potential to develop a pandemic extended on all continents. In a general sense, moreover, if some particular characteristic had been identified that – in certain people – determined immunity to coronavirus, then it would be an extraordinary and very useful result for researchers at work to find a cure or a vaccine. Instead, more trivially, this news of the “genetic resistance” is totally invented and false . On social networks and on sites dedicated to disinformation it is naturally hyper-shared, often with some racist tinge more or less marked .

2. Coronavirus does NOT make all males sterile

We are facing an exaggeration . The idea that all men infected with the coronavirus and survived the disease remain sterile has spread since an article published on Monday on the website Thailand Medical News , which in turn refers to a scientific paper just released online. However, the story is basically false , and is the result of some distorted interpretations .

First of all the paper in question is available online but has not been published by any scientific journal , and also has not been subjected to any process of peer-review . So its contents are in any case to be taken with caution. Above all, then, in the paper it is not written at all that males become sterile due to of coronavirus, but it is said more simply that in the most serious patients there may be damage to the tissues of the kidneys and testicles , due to both the virus and the drug-induced toxicity used to contain the symptoms. And we read that in the case of the testicles there is the possibility that the damage is so serious as to determine the appearance of tumors or to compromise the fertility .

These are therefore hypotheses which, if confirmed, would be certainly help doctors to bring attention to some negative effects potentially caused by the virus, but at the moment nothing is known or can be foreseen regarding the real incidence of these alleged permanent damages. The site Hoax-alert , which followed the matter, has in fact indicated how the sense of content of the scientific study has been completely misrepresented , transforming the suggestion of pay attention to the kidney function of patients hospitalized in a catastrophic forecast about the loss of fertility in the whole infected male population. However, at the moment there is no statistic on the number of people who became sterile following the infection, and the scientists themselves authors of the paper have referred only to the data on the spread of infection in the body as they are reported in the medical records.

3. The origin of coronavirus from a Wuhan laboratory is NOT confirmed

For days he has been discussing the thesis, relaunched among others by TgCom 24 , according to which the virus is escaped from a Chinese laboratory. Initially based on the bad interpretation of a study on Nature (which among other things the 20 January clarified the qui pro quo , disqualifying the related conspiracies ), in the last days the story has regained strength after the publication of a new paper . According to the journalistic interpretation that has been given, with in mind again TgCom 24 and relaunched by many other newspapers, the scientific document would confirm that “the coronavirus came out of a laboratory near the Wuhan market”.

To make a long story short (here we have published an in-depth analysis on the matter), the paper referred to has not been published in any scientific journal but only on the ResearchGate social network, is a pre-print not subjected to peer review , has as authors two not particularly authoritative scientists and had as main amplifiers international sites that often relaunch misinformation. At the moment, however, it is removed from the network . Furthermore, the sources on which the study is based are not scientific data, but hypotheses , deductions and interpretations of journalistic articles related to the alleged contagion of one or more researchers by a bat studied in a laboratory by Wuhan, based on some testimonies collected by local journalists.

Admitted and not granted that this story is true (but at the moment there are no elements to consider it more than a hypothesis without of concrete supporting evidence ), it should however be specified that there is no mention of conspiracies or viruses intentionally produced or engineered in the laboratory. Much more simply, the authors of the questionable paper – which they cite as sources Nature and Lancet , who deny what is attributed to them – have argued that the place where the alleged leap of virus species from animal to human took place would not be the Wuhan market but a laboratory not far away, recognizing however that the virus it existed independently of human intervention and that there may have been at most an error or an inadequacy of the biological containment system.

4. Magical concoctions and other dangerous potions

More than a single fake news, it is a whole strand. In fact, the alleged miraculous remedies capable of guaranteeing immunity from the coronavirus multiply: in the best cases it is stratagems useless , in the worst the advice is pure dangerous for health. Next to the unscientific diets , of which we have already told here on Wired , there are at least de theories about prevention, one which consists in taking antibiotics to prepare in advance and the other which suggests ingesting regular doses of paracetamol or others antipyretics even if there are no symptoms. Among other do-it-yourself medicines, the oregano essential oil , the sesame oil and the garlic in massive doses, plus a concoction based on bleach diluted with homeopathic concentrations. According to what reported by Il Sole 24 Ore, finally, a variant of the buffalo very widespread in South Africa would invite to drink continuously , claiming that during the watering and swallowing it is not possible to be infected with the coronavirus. Either take excessive amounts of water every day or dissolve in a little sodium hypochlorite (the bleach) it should not particularly benefit human health.

5. There is NO request for “urgent prayer” from Wuhan

Here it is not a question of spirituality or religious belief, but only of reliability of the sources and scientifically based action suggestions. In fact, a chain of Saint Anthony with a “urgent prayer request from Wuhan” circulates on the net, especially on WhatsApp and other messaging apps from “the Huangpu church and the Hankou church in Wuhan” and revolt “to Christians from all over the world “, in which, moreover, the coronavirus epidemic is described as “The arm of divine punishment that humanity deserves for having turned away from God” .

Beyond the religious interpretations of what is happening, the message contains some important inaccuracies which lead to deduce that the invitation does not come from within the Christian community at all, but is more likely the result of the work of some serial viralizer international , given that the same hoax also exists in other languages. First of all, writing “Huangpu church and Hankou church” does not make sense: it is of a single building, Hankou, built on Huangpu Road in the Jiang'an district, and is not a church but a temple . Moreover, the building in question is a sacred place of the Buddhist religion and not of Christianity and, as reported Bufale.net , at the time it was closed as a measure of prevention against contagion. Even the detail that the request comes from “a nun my friend” is presumably false, and certainly too vague to allow any verification.

Without going into the merits of the value of prayer, subjective and individual, what matters most is that religious faith does not lead to forgetting respect for suggestions provided by the World Health Organization, or which suggests that it is sufficient to rely on spirituality to “stop the arm of divine punishment” , without listening to the voice of the scientists and health authorities.

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