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HomeBlogTrue or False? Official Agencies Are Also Struggling to Provide Reliable Information About the Coronavirus

True or False? Official Agencies Are Also Struggling to Provide Reliable Information About the Coronavirus

By: Medix Team
True or False? Official Agencies Are Also Struggling to Provide Reliable Information About the Coronavirus

How long does COVID-19 last on surfaces: three days or 17? And does Ibuprofen enhance the virus symptoms or is this fake news? With a dizzying rate of updates and new information being posted or published about COVID-19, even the world's most important healthcare organisations are struggling to provide reliable information

Within a matter of months, COVID-19 has spread across the world, significantly impacting our lives. At a time when over a quarter of the world's population is under lockdown and hundreds of thousands have already tested positive for COVID-19, everyone is searching for clear-cut answers regarding any number of issues: how to deal with the virus? how can one reduce the chances of getting infected? when will this crisis end? what will our lives look like in the future? and countless other questions. Social networks are flooded with information, different experts are giving interviews and commentary on the news and the world's leading health organisations constantly release information and various assessments.


Many of us already know how to tell the difference between fake news we get on WhatsApp or read on questionable websites and reliable sources of information. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak begun, it seems increasingly difficult to know what is true and what is false. Even the most trusted and reliable sources – such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other official agencies – publish new information every day, often contradicting their previous announcements or other official statements. The issue is that this is a new virus and the information is evolving.


This is how, for example, in mid-March, media outlets around the world published a World Health Organisation statement recommending that people should avoid taking Ibuprofen, as it may worsen COVID-19 symptoms. "This is under examination, and in the meantime, we recommend using Paracetamol", WHO spokesperson, Christian Lindmeier told journalists. Millions of people around the world trusted and followed this recommendation, only to find out a day later that the organisation had declared that there is essentially no proven reason for COVID-19 patients to stop using Ibuprofen. It turned out that the spokesperson's original statement was based on a study that had merely suggested a hypothesis and was not supported by concrete scientific evidence. "The World Health Organisation is not aware of clinical information or population-based data on this issue", the organisation later tweeted, backtracking from its previous announcement.


Another example of frequent policy change revolves around the issue of the virus' ability to remain stable on surfaces. In the early stages of the outbreak, official agencies around the world announced that the coronavirus survives for up to four hours on copper surfaces, about 24 hours on cardboard surfaces and about 72 hours on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces. This information was based on existing research that had been widely accepted by the scientific community and was therefore cited as official data. However, a CDC study published on March 26th, based on information gathered and analysed from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, revealed that the virus had survived in the ship's rooms and on surfaces even 17 days after all passengers had disembarked. The discrepancy between the results may be due to the gaps that exist between experiments that take place under strict laboratory conditions and a real environment. Studies conducted in laboratory conditions take place in controlled temperature and humidity environments, whereas in the real world, the virus may find more optimal conditions for survival. Either way, we again found ourselves dealing with "official" data that turned out not always to be precise.


Another official assessment pertains to the virus' incubation period and is again disputed by various officials. While WHO holds the official position that the maximum incubation period is 14 days, recent studies have also found a 15.6-day incubation period, while the Chinese government claims of an incident that shows the possibility of a patient who experienced 27-day incubation period.


Besides the frequently evolving formal assessments, there are quite a few topics on which we simply do not have sufficient information about yet. For example, no health organisation in the world is ready to unequivocally answer questions such as: whether someone who has recovered from coronavirus may be infected again? when will a vaccine be available? are antiviral drugs effective against the disease? and more.


So, who can you trust and how do you know which information is reliable? Unfortunately, the answer to this question will also be irresolute. Thousands of scientists, researchers and medical professionals around the world are currently working around the clock to provide as much reliable information about the coronavirus as possible and allow the world to deal with it optimally.


As always, the recommendation is to follow your country’s official medical agencies, for example, your ministry of health, and also follow global agencies such as the CDC and the WHO, while remaining attentive to changes in recommendations and updates that these organisations regularly publish. We should all be aware that today's recommendations may change tomorrow, and we should be ready to cope with the changes in real-time. The entire world is going through this together and while it is easier said than done, as a global community we should practice knowledge and experience sharing to overcome the challenges faced by COVID-19.

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