Government agencies are warning about misinformation, and Big Tech is patrolling the internet to protect us all. But how do they know what is misinformation? What is the Gold Standard?
Artificial Intelligence Chatbots: A reporter tried asking several chatbots about a common set of symptoms that he claimed to have. He queried reliable sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Buoy Health, the Cleveland Clinic, Verily, and Providence St. Joseph Health. He got conflicting advice. One said he was at low risk and should keep monitoring. Another said the risk was medium and he should call his primary care physician. One advised him to get tested, while telling a colleague who entered the same information that he was ineligible for testing. They all focused on symptoms that could have been a common cold or influenza, and on international travel to certain hotspots. None apparently asked about digestive symptoms, which may be present in nearly half of cases. Nor did they ask about loss of sense of smell, newly described.
Testing: In many places, testing is still unavailable. The FDA warns that home test kits are “unauthorized.” How accurate are any of the tests? There are many false positives, and also false negatives. Patients with a negative test may convert to positive only after becoming severely ill. Was that terrible episode of “influenza” you had in December or January, when Chinese students at your university were freely traveling back and forth to home, really COVID-19? To answer that question, we need to measure acute and convalescent antibodies. Finally, an antibody test is available, which has been widely used in China, and the FDA is permitting its use in a Public Heath Emergency.
The Expert-in-Chief: The point person who is always on television is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He has spent his career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In September 2009, he was relaxed and unalarmed after millions had become infected with the H1N1 influenza and thousands had died, some of whom were young people and children. He told an interviewer that people just need “to use good judgment.” In 1984, he shifted the emphasis of the NIH to HIV/AIDS. The alarming statements of experts like him led Oprah Winfrey to predict in 1987 that “one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS in the next three years.” Bars and restaurants, however, were not closed in either instance.
Preventives and Remedies: There are NO FDA-approved preventives or remedies. If claims are made for a product, the manufacturer can expect to get a threatening warning letter from FDA. Many claims have been criticized, including simple home measures like inhaling hot air, which some physicians use nonetheless. People should “use good judgment,” and of course should not drink industrial bleach (chlorine dioxide).
There are many unknowns. The established experts could be mistaken. Use good judgment. Help your neighbor, and don’t panic.
For further information, see our compendium of Corona Virus Articles