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Is COVID-19 a biological weapon and can neem or hot bath prevent it? Fact-checking 24 claims

There is a disproportionate amount of fake news doing the rounds in India about coronavirus. From eating eggs to biological warfare, we bust the myths.

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The SARS-CoV2 is a new virus. It will take time to develop a treatment or vaccine to the disease it is causing — called coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19. It has created a lot of disproportionate panic and misinformation already. It is essential to know the facts. Throughout this article, we will bust 24 common claims.

Outbreaks of infectious diseases have happened ever since people began to live in family groups and communities. Infections are caused by pathogens, bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that enter the human body and cause damage. The purpose of the pathogen is not to kill the host, it is to use the host in order to survive and multiply, which is the fundamental goal of all living things.

What we call disease is only a side-effect of the interaction between the pathogen and the host or the infected person. The host’s immune system does not like the perturbation caused by the interaction and tries to get rid of the pathogen to return to a normal or healthy state. To do that, the immune system has to recognise the pathogen and find a way of stopping it from making the host sick and removing it from the body.

In other words, the host learns about the pathogen and finds ways of protecting itself. But if the pathogen is a new one, the first time the host gets infected, he or she has no protection. This is what is happening in the world today with the disease called COVID-19 caused by the virus known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 or the SARS-CoV2.

Also read: How 5 of the worst-hit countries around the world are responding to coronavirus outbreak

Information on the virus

The virus has infected humans only since late last year, when it spread from Wuhan in China. But it has now spread around the world, causing a lot of infections and some deaths. This has resulted in a fear of the virus that is out of proportion with what we have learned in just the last few weeks about the disease. We have learnt how it spreads, who gets very sick and who does not and how we can prevent its spread, treat the disease and make new tests, drugs and vaccines.

When there is a lot that is unknown, we are afraid and rely on whatever information we find.

In today’s age of WhatsApp, a lot of the coronavirus information that is widely shared is inaccurate and believing it can do harm to people and to society.

What is true is that we have an infection that has spread rapidly and will continue to spread rapidly around the world if we do nothing about it. But there is a lot we can do — we can wash our hands, not touch our faces, stay away from people if we have fever and a cough, and go to a testing facility if we have been in contact with someone who may have COVID-19 infection.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Also read: Coronavirus is travelling to countries and so is misinformation around it. It’s an infodemic

What we are doing

There is a lot that the government can do also, and it is doing that by screening people coming from other countries, following up on people who have come in to see if they get sick, decreasing or closing travel from countries that have infections, and by making sure that we are prepared for testing and staying away from people if we are infected.

Closing schools, malls and cinemas is one way to stop many people coming together because it is people in close contact with each other, within 3-6 ft and for more than 15 minutes, who are mostly affected when a person is infected. In hospitals, because there are many procedures done on patients, extra care needs to be taken by doctors, nurses and others to limit the spread of infection to themselves and others.

We know all this about the virus already and every day we are learning more. Scientists have been working on developing drugs and vaccines, and we have never been able to move so fast before to get to a stage where the latest and fastest technologies have begun to show us what we will be able to do to control or prevent the virus soon. This will not happen tomorrow, because these drugs and vaccines will need to go through a lot of rigorous testing to make sure that they are safe and effective, but so far there are many approaches that are showing promising results in early testing. Governments, NGOs, scientists across the world are working together to move these through testing as quickly as possible.

All this is good progress. Yet, there is no proven therapy and technology that has met the high safety and standards of testing efficacy we need to have confidence in a vaccine or drugs.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Also read: Coronavirus spread not just an epidemic, pseudoscience has made it a ‘misinfo-demic’ too

Busting fake news

When there is so much information circulating, it is hard to know what is true and what is fake news.

It is important to use only information that comes from credible sources. But we also know that on social media, false information spreads further and faster than the truth. This is because medical science never says something is ‘100% safe’ or ‘100% effective’, because there is always some variation. False information has no problem making definitive claims. In the last few weeks, we have heard a lot that is untrue and wanted to make sure that everyone has the correct information.

Believing in prevention and treatment strategies that are untested can lead to a false sense of security and not taking the right steps to protect ourselves and others. Panic and irrationality generated by the social media ‘infodemic’ are dangerous and we all have a responsibility to make sure that we share information from trusted sources. Here are some common fake news doing the rounds.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

The author is an expert on infectious diseases and best known for her work to develop the rotavirus vaccine. In 2019, she became the first Indian woman to be elected to the Royal Society of London. She teaches at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, and is the Executive Director of the Translational Health Science & Technology Institute in Faridabad. Views are personal.

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  1. Nice article. However ,I wonder, how we could say “Nor true” and in the same breath say ” Not tested”? Are we taking extreme positions unnecessarily? I feel taking such positions can erode the credibility of the author as well as the publisher.please have an open mind and approach on all subjects.

  2. for a long time, i thought neem only had anti-bacterial and not anti-viral effects but turns out i was wrong.

    kindly don’t enslave your mind to the west.

    demand testing be done rather than rubbish claims outright or question why such testing ought to be done.

    that is the duty of the press.

  3. I am trying to make the covid_19 vaccine but lack of some facilities. It is taking time more

  4. I too have idea of we could design masks and glouses which can kill the virus, then it’s could be a great help to stop the spread of virus

  5. Hello world.I got an Idea.Why cant we research on neem tree and see the result.As know…it has been greatly used to cure mkst desiases…….as for now…I understand that Covid 19 has got multiple symptoms that are like pneumonja…….muscle aches…….head ache…..stomach disorders…….malarial feeling….flue etc…all this symptoms can be treated wuth this tree….lets look down into it

  6. How could you even debunk something without even having it tested with results out?
    Your arrogance is shown here when you state it “Not True” when it’s not been tested yet. Outrageous!

  7. I think that neem and termaric and anti malarial drug will be the vaccine for carona virus covid ………. Pls take this comment

  8. I think that neem and termaric and anti malarial drug will be the vaccine for carona virus covid ……….

  9. Every living entity, human or other, has its own army as a defence mechanism and springs to action whenever it feels an intruding harmful pathogen has invaded its territory. Invaders are viewed as those which cannot be logged on to. But viruses, germs, bacteria have to exist in any body for its survival as well as for its death and disposal. But different living species have different living viruses etc which do not match with any other one. However, once a threat is localized in laboratories, scientists fiddle with them to make vaccines that can help fight against invasive ones. In fact, a flu is a mechanism whereby the body tells the immune system to find a way to get rid of the large accumulation of waste it cannot deal any more. So, it produces heat as fever and the whole system is slowed or logged down so that the body starts manufacturing additional viruses and the like and use them as a solvent to flush away the toxins. It is only when the immuno-system is deficient because of old age and disease infestation that when the system fails to gather additional support that the body essential functions stop and the body dies. So, according to Ayurvedic way of dealing, our dincharya, the way of life and feeding needs a daily self administration to meet the oncoming weather changes and others which serve as a daily health dosage not requiring a sudden burst of medicine impact with side effects.

  10. Nice article mam … It gives a energy like feeling when u have all clear to your mind about disease.

  11. We can discount remedies such as Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, veg food, alcohol, non-veg etc. But, who says virus of animal origin cannot be manufactured. COVID 19 could be a bio-weapon which went out of control. Which major country has not manufactured pathogens and viruses?

  12. Yes good article & informative but certain column says ‘not tested’ but it can not be ignored. Better let the concerned professionals & come up with the report. so no point in listed under false. I urge every one to go through the message of Dr.Devi Shetty, a Sr.Cardiologist recently telecast on TV. Plz listen to him that why Quarantine is most important & when to get tested in lab to avoid false positive & negative reports as well. Plz lets not loose our mental balance & panic & over react.

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