COVID-19 Watch FACT CHECK Health

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Another MISLEADING post claims bacteria, not virus, causes COVID-19

Misleading Facebook (FB) posts carrying a video of a World Health Organization official saying asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 “seems to be rare,” have been making the rounds among Pakistani and Indian social media users and widely shared in the Philippines.

One of the posts, published on June 14 by a netizen, added the false claim that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a “bacterial infection,” not a virus. It said: ‘WHO cheated the world. Corona is not a Virus but a bacterial infection and patients can cure only in one day.’

This is not true. As early as December 2019, when the disease was still a mysterious respiratory illness spreading in Wuhan, China, laboratory tests reportedly already showed that patients had “SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus.” SARS-CoV also first emerged in China in 2002 and caused an epidemic; it spread worldwide infected more than 8,000 people.

In January, it was discovered that the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan and the subsequent global pandemic was a new strain of coronavirus now named SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2). It is less fatal than SARS-CoV but more infectious. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) have confirmed this as well.

This is why COVID-19 cannot be treated by mere antibiotics, or medicines that fight bacteria. Antibiotics do not work against viruses. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Viral posts FALSELY claim COVID-19 is thrombosis, bacterial in nature)

The three-minute-long video which the misleading posts carry was from a television program in the United States called Greg Kelly Reports. In a June 8 segment entitled “Asymptomatic cases not infectious,” anchor Greg Kelly discussed with a guest WHO’s press briefing with COVID-19 Technical Lead and epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove. She announced that data available to the WHO suggests asymptomatic transmission of the virus “still seems to be rare.”

However, Kerkhove clarified her statement the next day and said she was only referring to “a very small subset of studies” which found that secondary transmission of asymptomatic cases is “very rare,” but that the WHO knows “some people who don’t have symptoms can transmit the virus on.”

The post detected by FB’s Claim Check platform to be circulating in the Philippines and which bore the additional claim on COVID-19 being caused by bacteria, was published by someone who claims he is from Saudi Arabia. This came over a week after the Department of Health announced it would start testing asymptomatic individuals who came in close contact with COVID-19 patients. The post already received over 47,000 views and 1,400 interactions from FB netizens.

Social media tool CrowdTangle was able to find 109 other FB posts carrying the WHO footage, most of them shared by FB pages and public groups based in Pakistan and India. The post’s earliest version was published on June 11 by a netizen who claims he is from Pakistan.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)