Илустрација од Критинк.мк, објавена со дозвола.

The portal for promotion of critical thinking CriThink.mk warned that the Facebook page of the web portal Think.mk has published a disinformation with false claims about the behavior of the novel coronavirus which can lead to serious health consequences and further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. These claims are contrary to the information published by the experts from the Ministry of Health of Republic of North Macedonia and the World Health Organization (WHO).

CriThink.mk noted that on March 15 2020 the Think.mk Facebook page published a post  with an image of transparent human figure with giant viruses running through his neck, alongside misinforming text that endangers public health, and supplemented with a manipulative call “Please share this information, because you might save someone that way.”

Unfortunately, this is not information, but disinformation, which won’t contribute to saving anyone, but can actually contribute to getting more people hurt, if they believe the lie. Particularly considering that the page has over 141,000 fans, who might apply the  erroneous claim and spread it further.

By the time of publishing of CriThink debunk, the questionable post had over 4.200 shares, which makes it extremelly dangerous for collective security. On top of that, the page administrators have not responded to numerous well meaning comments by Facebook users who told them that the news is false.

For instance, one user  has  written: “You must not post such false information and instructions. There are people who would heed them instead of seeking medical aid, and waste precious time on this nonsense, paying the price with their lives.

This disinformation republished by Think.mk has been spreading online in similar form for some time, using the same picture and with text in English language. American fact-checking website Snopes.com has rated this claim false.

Comparing the WHO information also indicates that this Think.mk post fulfils the criteria from the warning by the Macedonian Ministry of Interior regarding criminal responsibility for spreading false news about the pandemic.

Screen capture of the Think.mk Facebook post with false claims about the novel coronavirus.

The text embedded in the illustration purports the following false claims:

False claim #1: “The coronavirus, before reaching the lungs, inhabits the  throat and stays there for 4 days.”

There’s no scientific evidence that the virus  has to spend four days in the throat before spreading through the body and attacking the lungs.

The basic idea that a virus travels through the body and chooses to stay in particular organ for a certain time before deciding to move to another and do damage there shows complete lack of understanding how viruses work. During infection, there’s no one individual creature or group that migrate through the  organs on a time schedule, as humans would do when traveling from country to country.

When a virus infects a cell, it forces it to produce its own copies, which then spread to other cells. The degree of virus multiplication depends on a range of conditions, and the speed of the spread for the COVID-19 disease has not been precisely determined yet. During that process, new generations of viruses, descendants of the initial organism, pass from cell to cell or are borne through  the cells through fluids like lymph, blood etc.

A better analogy that would describe the “traveling” of the viruses from cell to cell is to compare it with the transfer of e-mails, with each intermediary server creates copies of the initial message.

False claim #2: “At this time the infected person feels pain and starts coughing.”

According to the information published on the special coronavirus web page by the Ministry of Health of RNM, dry coughing alongside high fever and heavy breathing are among the symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (previously known as 2019-nCoV).

However, the page doesn’t specify when the coughing should start or end, nor that there’s any connection to the alleged “temporary” residence of the virus in the throat.

On the other hand, some of the patients infected with this novel coronavirus don’t cough much (asymptomatic patients) or, similar to other symptoms, coughing can be entirely absent during the incubation period. This period is estimated to about 5 days, but there are cases when it took 11 days (according to scientific paper published March 10 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine). This is the  reason why the period of self-isolation for persons who might have been exposed to the infection, before showing symptoms, has been set to 14 days.

These research efforts are work in progress and the scientists have not yet produced a definite clinical image of the development of the disease. The known facts indicate  that  infected people from high risk groups, who would believe in disinformation of this kind, might reckon that they need not respect the health authorities’ recommendations for home isolation and apply for medical check-up too late in the disease cycle.

False claim #3: “If you drink large amounts of warm water or gargle with water that  includes salt or vinegar (vine or apple) the virus  will be eliminated and thrown out of the body!”

World Health Organization has explicitly warned that the “myths” that gargling mouthwash can protect you from infection with the 2019-nCoV are dangerous lies.

“There is no evidence that using mouthwash will protect you from infection with the new coronavirus,” the WHO announced.

Viruses spread from cell to cell, and if they have been present in the throat, then they would be inside the cells of its tissues, and would not float like some kind of air baloons in the imaginary free space within it. While the infection “moves” “downwards” towards the lungs, it’s wrong to imagine the viruses as some kind of mountaineers performing gradual descent through the inner walls of the throat, as if they need 4 days to climb down. If they would actually do that, then the notion of “washing them” with water or vinegar that would somehow such them back to the mouth to be spit out, or towards the stomach and the other exit from the body through the digestive system.

However gargling with any liquid doesn’t imply that that liquid flows through the cells of the throat as if through sewage pipes, carrying the filth with it as if while flushing water in a WC.

And there’s absolutely no evidence that salt water harms the virus. Mentioning of vinegar, a product of fermentation of ethyl alcohol, also refers to completely false claim that drinking alcohol would allegedly protect from the infection. Unfortunately, certain media and politicians continue to spread such claims, so people who have previously believed them are more likely to believe to this lie also.

The stories about miracle cures fit the mindset of  people who wish for quick, easy and cheap solution to eliminate the virus, preferably without much effort on their part in understanding of the situation. The truth is that eliminating such disease carriers is only possible through development of vaccine, which is a long, hard, complicated and expensive process, requiring engagement of scientists, with support by health and state institutions.

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The web portal Think.mk “association for thinking and entertainment,” associated with this  Facebook page has not been registered as a member of the Register of Professional Media established by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the Council of Media Ethics in Macedonia.

According to јpublicly available data from the registrar of internet domains MARNET (image) the domain think.mk had been registered by a person named Daniel Kraljevski, with an address in the city of Pattaya in Thailand, and has Thai telephone number as contact information. The website doesn’t contain an impressum/masthead nor advertisment banners, nor information about who and why finances their daily production of dozens of new articles per day.