People are facing significant challenges in dealing with new information about Covid-19 at a time when scientists, epidemiologists, statisticians and public health workers are rapidly changing their views and assessment about the disease and its sequel. Overloaded with information in journals, magazines, press, social media and TV channels people are stressed and find difficulty in decision making. The information and misinformation about Covid-19 spread as rapidly as virus itself. Besides conventional sources of information, friends and people whom we meet also share new information about this disease. Information technology has overtaken information strategy creating information source as information sink.
In fact, source of information is vital to assess the authencity of the claim. Misinformation can read like a rumor coming from a person who heard it from others or read in unidentified sources.
Further, don’t confuse with preliminary scientific results with final outcome. The scientific research takes long time to conclude before publishing it in a peer reviewed journal. Covid-19 is a new virus identified only recently without much of the information on its natural history and pathological outcome. Since January this year, almost all the medical journals have published numerous articles on Covid-19 to expand the scientific information about this deadly pathogen. Moreover, several Government Institutions and private organization have started work on developing drugs and vaccine for this disease. The news and social media are flooded with the information on drugs and vaccines for Covid-19 without acknowledging the fact on the process of development and their likely failure.
Too much analysis of scientific content, modeling for future predictions and expert reports all may change, be wrong or incomplete. Everyone is sailing the same boat of uncertainty thus creating issues of unusual social behavior during this crisis. Panic buying, storing goods for months are irrational behavior shown due to fear psychosis generated due to misinformation about the issues.
Misinformation can be originated from politicians, celebrities, religious leaders or as part of state backed operation to create panic and develop distrust in other countries. Conspiracy theory of corona bioterrorism is one such example of ignoring the science over operational insufficiency. Claims to offer at home test for corona, miraculous cure with cow urine, cow dung, and vibration due to clapping or lighting lamps on Amavasya all accounted to poor information source. Janata curfew itself was supposed to reduce corona burden by 40% as highlighted by various sources. Significant amount of time was spend on talking about nasal sprays, anti-allergics, aspirin and dettol antiseptic to combat corona issues. Common man was confused with corona family of viruses with Covid-19. These are few examples of misinformation that surrounded the masses among despair and hope.
Interesting such misinformation generating fear or panic is well known since earlier days. Similar situation was seen during early years of HIV epidemic. It was also plagued by conspiracy theory, rumors and misinformation about its transmission and treatment. The influence of such arguments can be so strong that it may lead to change in policy decisions. South Africa denied the treatment with anti-HIV drugs only due to the influence of such false arguments. In fact Government promoted herbal remedies like garlic, beetroot and lemon juice as a remedy for AIDS treatment.
Now it is important to learn from the past mistake. Currently people are consuming Vitamin C, garlic and mix of herbals as a possible remedy for Covid-19 despite no evidence of its efficacy. Recently several herbals and food products are claimed to enhance the immunity despite lack of any robust scientific study. Fortunately, most of these home remedies are safe but it may cause serious adverse reaction as well. A case was brought to my notice of excessive consumption of garlic to prevent corona leading to swelling and skin rashes on the face and neck.
Further, in an attempt to increase viewership, media create dramatic headlines inciting panic amongst public. While scientists and health professional are still studying the natural history of Covid-19, disease pathogenesis and its preventive and treatment strategies, media and other sources are busy speculating its health impact and publishing wrong, scary information to create panic.
Excessive information creates not only mental clouding but also generates tremendous stress affecting one’s decision making. Undue “cognitive load” hampers routine life of an individual pushing him into mental problems. There are higher than usual number of patients with psychological illnesses coming to out-patient clinics during this crisis. Lack of sleep, uneasiness, palpitation, agitation, feeling of insecurity, domestic violence and increase rate of divorces are the consequences of poorly managed inflow of information. 25-30% of otherwise healthy people are suffering from mental disorders due to (mis)information about Covid-19 and its social and economic impact in future. Try to switch off your TV and smart phones to avoid “overwhelming emotional content”. Positive thinking and positive attitude is important to do away with fear.