Misinformation about the new coronavirus has claimed the lives of at least 800 people worldwide in the first three months of this year, researchers say in the scientific journal American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, according to British broadcaster BBC.
About 5,800 people ended up in hospital as a result of incorrect information circulating on social media, among other things.
Many of the deaths occurred after ingesting the highly toxic alcohol variety methanol or alcohol-based cleaning products.
The World Health Organization has already warned that misinformation about the coronavirus is spreading just as quickly as the virus itself. Conspiracy theories, rumours and cultural stigmas are said to contribute to the high number of deaths and injuries.
Victims followed the advice that they considered indistinguishable from legitimate medical information. For example, notice was circulated to consume large quantities of garlic or vitamin pills to prevent contamination. Some victims reportedly drank cow urine after reading that it could help. All actions that can have “potentially serious health consequences”, the scientists behind the study said.
In April, a riot broke out after US President Donald Trump suggested that taking or injecting disinfectants such as bleach might help. “The disinfectant turns it off in a minute,” Trump said. “Is there any way we can do such a thing by injecting it? Almost like a cleanup.”
Experts warned not to put it into practice after Trump’s remarks. “Inhaling bleach would be the worst for the lungs,” said John Balmes, a San Francisco pulmonologist. “Not even a small amount is safe. It’s a totally ridiculous concept.”
British multinational Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of disinfectant cleaning products Dettol and Lysol, was forced to warn people not to follow Trump’s suggestion.