Cork doctors help fight fake news about Covid-19

Two helped halt the spread of dangerous information about virus that began circulating in Cork via social media
Cork doctors help fight fake news about Covid-19

New research, carried out by Dr Cathal O’Connor and Dr Michelle Murphy of South Infirmary Victoria Hospital, highlighted a number of false messages and news stories that began circulating in Cork via social media and messaging applications. File Picture: PA

Two Cork doctors have been doing their part to help halt the spread of dangerous information related to the Covid-19 pandemic in Cork.

New research, carried out by Dr Cathal O’Connor and Dr Michelle Murphy of South Infirmary Victoria Hospital, highlighted a number of false messages and news stories that began circulating in Cork via social media and messaging applications.

The research, conducted in conjunction with University College Cork (UCC), explored common trends that led to some scientifically inaccurate and potentially dangerous information spreading rapidly around the county.

The results of Dr O’Connor and Dr Murphy’s study found some key commonalities between false stories about Covid-19 that began to circulate in recent months.

Each story claimed to include ‘inside information’ but was then vague about its true source. 

All stories were also presented in an alarmist tone, intended to produce a panicked and fearful reaction from its readers.

The stories analysed centred around four key themes: food and beverages as potential Covid-19 ‘cures’; hygiene practices, medicines; and the Government's response to the pandemic.

The report highlighted one particular story, spread via WhatsApp, which falsely claimed that four healthy young people in Cork had been hospitalised after ingesting Ibuprofen.

The story seemed to suggest that Ibuprofen would trigger some sort of serious adverse reaction in young people diagnosed with Covid-19.

Dr Cathal O'Connor, one of the project's researchers. Picture: Irish Clinical Academic Training/ ICAT
Dr Cathal O'Connor, one of the project's researchers. Picture: Irish Clinical Academic Training/ ICAT

Both Dr O'Connor and Dr Murphy say they saw first-hand the implications of false stories at their clinical practices.

Dr O’Connor, dermatology specialist registrar in South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital said: “Over the past few months, we have encountered patients that are hesitant to take ibuprofen due to rumours circulating in the early days of the pandemic.

Other patients with serious time-sensitive non-Covid-19 illnesses, such as stroke, have had delayed presentations, becoming critically unwell, due to concerns about contracting Covid-19 in hospital.

“There is a need to stop the spread of false information by refuting or rebutting misleading health information on social media and by providing appropriate sources to accompany any refutation,” he added.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Cathal O’Connor and Dr Michelle Murphy highlighted the need for doctors to confront fake news internationally. 

Dr Michelle Murphy, consultant dermatologist in South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital said that false information in circulation in Ireland "has detracted from the evidence-based precautions that the health service is promoting, such as social distancing, and hand hygiene." 

She said: "Interestingly, our research found that false message predominantly compromised of text, but voice notes became increasingly popular, with local accents added to increase credibility. 

"Going forward, we encourage international colleagues to support each other in combating fake information as part of the fight against Covid-19.” 

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