Beware of fake corona news
There seems to be only one topic in the media these days—the new coronavirus and the disease it is causing, COVID-19. In addition to television, the internet and the newspapers, we are being bombarded with opinions and news on social media. Our recommendation is to read those with caution, especially when it comes to medical advice, as the backgrounds and credentials of so-called experts are not always clear.
We still do not have a treatment or a vaccination for this disease and even publications in medical journals at this stage are not clinically controlled studies that provide clear evidence. Often, we are only seeing reports on trends and very preliminary data. Even in very prestigious journals, commentaries or opinions are being published that are not supported by valid data. As we know, scientists can differ in their views and only solid studies can give solid answers.
One example of this is a much-hyped ‘study’ claiming that taking ibuprofen, a pain and fever medication, increases the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. This information was based on a commentary or hypothesis in Lancet, a renowned medical journal, that was presented as an interesting hypothesis and food for thought. But it spread like wildfire on social media, where it was presented as hard evidence that ibuprofen should in any case be avoided. Eventually, even the WHO, with the idea of ‘better safe than sorry’, recommended not taking this drug, particularly because there are alternatives available—paracetamol and aspirin—and patients can easily switch to these alternatives.
Be critical of medical advice on social media
At the same time, there are more dangerous hypotheses floating around. For example, it is being said that some of the most widely used antihypertensives, ACE-inhibitors and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs), could also increase the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. This is again material for an interesting debate among scientists, but it is not hard evidence based on a clinical study. Many patients suffering from high blood pressure were worried and stopped taking their medication. Here, the medical societies intervened and made it clear that this would be a big mistake and would pose enormous health risk, since patients with cardiovascular disorders still have the highest mortality rate worldwide (18 million deaths in 2019). In addition, clinical studies during the SARS epidemic had shown that the drugs in question actually reduced the severity of the lung disease that was caused by the virus. Our advice, therefore, is to be extremely critical of the seemingly random medical advice on social media. Look for the source, see if it is trustworthy and—if in doubt—ask a doctor.
Amidst this COVID-19 crisis we are all bombarded by the news channels – often also with information on medical issues. These news items include unfiltered and even dangerous information, for example on social media. In this context I will provide this medical blog where I share my thoughts, and aim to focus on evidence rather than on hype. These are personal opinions that should provide some food for thought for our academic community. They are not intended as formal statements by the executive board.