The spread of misinformation online must stop, a leading health author has warned.
Burton Paul, who is the author of Is It Serious? How to search for health information on the internet, says people are increasingly turning to the internet for updates on the Wuhan coronavirus, as well as to find out about its origins and symptoms and for information on how to stop its spread.
But he warns that misinformation and myths are being spread online as people start to panic following reports of eight confirmed cases in the UK.
WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is also thought to have told the BBC that misinformation is “making the work of our heroic workers even harder.”
Despite there being no connection between Corona beer and the virus, Google has reported a spike in searches for ‘Coronavirus beer’ and ‘virus Corona beer’.
“It’s inevitable that many people will turn to the internet while the coronavirus occupies the headlines,” says Burton Paul
“It’s still early days for the virus, so people are learning what it’s called, what is happening and what it could mean for them.
“Back in 2012, when the Norovirus started to gain attention, an interesting thing happened: The trends in Google internet searches for norovirus symptoms strongly correlated with rates of norovirus infection.
“A study identified that the growth in searches were in line with the spread of the virus, and they were able to track the activity of the virus based on the Google search. I believe this to be happening now with the coronavirus.
“As the pandemic spreads, the quantity – and quality – of information available online will also spread.
“It’s important for people to know where to look, who to trust, and to be able to decipher the information provided.
“The main point, though, is that searching online can help educate and empower, but if not done correctly, it can also cause panic and concern.
“The Department of Health and Social Care will be publishing updated data on a daily basis at 2pm until further notice.”
When such a situation occurs, Burton Paul points to organisations including the Department of Health & Social Care (in the UK), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC – Europe), and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (USA).
Burton Paul’s top recommendations for accurate information are: