VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Viral posts FALSELY claim COVID-19 is thrombosis, bacterial in nature

A number of web articles and social media posts are claiming that doctors have been addressing COVID-19 incorrectly all this time, saying the disease is “not pneumonia” but “disseminated intravascular coagulation (pulmonary thrombosis)” -- a condition where blood clots abnormally form across the bloodstream.

This is false and misleading.

The posts, widely shared by local netizens and which went viral since May 1, make several inaccurate assertions. They claim that COVID-19 is not caused by a virus but by bacteria; that the supposed bacteria is “amplified” by fifth-generation (5G) technology; and that ventilators and intensive care units (ICUs) were “never needed” in treating the disease because it can be fought with “antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anticoagulants.”

Posts skew findings of Italian researchers

There are at least two versions of the false posts going around, both claiming that Italian pathologists made the discovery by conducting autopsies on COVID-19 casualties. One specified that the study was done on 50 corpses from the cities of Bergamo and Milan.

There is no known study publicly stating that COVID-19 is pulmonary thrombosis. The closest is a report published April 22 in online health research repository medRxiv, which came with a note that the study was not peer-reviewed, meaning it is “yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.”

The study looked into lung tissues of 38 -- not 50 -- corpses of individuals who had severe COVID-19 from two hospitals in the aforementioned cities. Blood clotting was observed in 33 patients. However, it did not conclude that COVID-19 was disseminated intravascular coagulation.

In an interview with Poynter Institute’s Politifact, Aurelio Sonzogni, one of the authors of the study, said his research only found lung damage due to blood clotting as “one possible effect of COVID-19.” He also clarified that his study does not intend to “contradict the fact that COVID-19 is a virus that cannot be treated with antibiotics.”

COVID-19 is caused by virus

The posts claimed that COVID-19 is caused by a bacteria. Not true.

The disease comes from contracting the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Several studies on the virus’ genome structure published on The Lancet journal, The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection, among others, categorize SARS-CoV-2 as a member of the Betacoronavirus genus, as it exhibits similar characteristics with SARS-like coronaviruses.

5G does not ‘worsen’ the disease

One version of the post included a conspiracy theory claiming that 5G technology “amplifies” the bacteria that causes COVID-19, and causes inflammation and hypoxia in patients. Hypoxia is a condition where one’s body tissues do not have enough oxygen.

The WHO has said the disease is viral and not bacterial in nature, although it has clarified that patients may get bacterial infections. The 5G claim is inaccurate. A WHO information page about 5G said “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.” Claims about 5G causing inflammation and hypoxia in COVID-19 patients have no basis.

A more elaborate conspiracy about 5G and COVID-19 was debunked by VERA Files Fact Check in May. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB posts float CONSPIRACY theory on 5G, RFID link to COVID-19)

Drugs mentioned not a ‘cure’; ventilators, ICUs needed for severe cases

Both versions of the inaccurate posts bragged that ventilators and ICUs were “never needed” to treat COVID-19 because the Italian researchers discovered that “the way to fight it is with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anticoagulants.” Aspirin was explicitly mentioned.

Currently, there is still no drug or vaccine that can cure or prevent the coronavirus disease. The drugs mentioned in the online posts were meant to address related infections in COVID-19 patients.

The WHO and the United States Food and Drug Administration have constantly been reminding people that antibiotics will neither prevent nor treat COVID-19, as it is effective only against bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia in some COVID patients.

In addition, WHO’s interim guidance on the clinical management of COVID-19 released May 27 discourages antibiotic therapy for patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 “unless there is clinical suspicion of a bacterial infection,” because “antibiotic overuse” might make a patient prone to producing “multidrug-resistant bacteria.”

Meanwhile, WHO has recommended the use of the drug Heparin, an anticoagulant, since January this year. Heparin is a blood thinner that could help prevent thrombosis-related complications in patients.

There have been mixed opinions in different countries about the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen because of worries that it may increase susceptibility to the virus or worsen symptoms in current COVID-19 cases. NSAIDs can reduce pain and inflammation, among other things.

A research published May 24 in the Pain and Therapy journal concluded that there certainly are cases where NSAIDs should not be used but there was “no strong evidence that NSAIDs must be avoided in all patients with COVID-19.” WHO has similarly not discouraged the use of NSAIDs.

Lastly, the use of mechanical ventilators in ICUs remains a strong recommendation for COVID-19 patients experiencing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), according to WHO’s May 27 clinical guidance. ARDS happens when fluid builds up in the air sacs in one’s lungs.

Ventilators help a person experiencing difficulty in breathing by moving air in and out of his or her lungs. It is usually an aid for respiratory failure, which is one of the leading causes of deaths among COVID-19 patients.

Italy has not yet defeated COVID-19

The more recent iterations of the misleading posts also made two false claims concerning Italy: that the country has “defeated” the disease and that its Health ministry has changed its treatment protocols to use aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs for COVID-19 cases.

As of June 14, there were 26,274 active cases in Italy, according to its Health department’s case tracker.

Italy’s Ministry of Health website as of June 3 explicitly states that “antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections,” and reminds people to not take antiviral drugs and antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor.

The first version of the false and misleading posts circulated as early as May 1, titled “Autopsies Prove that COVID-19 is a Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation.” A copy of it could be found on website Gistflash, which could have reached over 990,000 netizens. Several accounts have republished its text as Facebook status updates.

The second version titled, “How Italian doctors disobeyed WHO and discovered the secrets of coronavirus,” could have reached more than 5.2 million people on social media. Its earliest copy was posted on the website Efogator, and shared as early as May 23. It has a version converted into a video, which two netizens have asked VERA Files Fact Check to look into.

Top traffic generators of the first version of the misleading posts are all public FB groups: OFFICIAL Q / QANON, 99% unite Main Group "it's us or them", and Italians For President Donald J Trump.

Philippine-based FB groups Tulfo Brothers Worldwide and Dugong Bayani Pinoy ako DU30 Online Warriors, with FB page Hayri Gözlükgiller, generated the most traffic for the posts’ second version.

Gistflash was created last May 2, Efogator in November 2014.

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

FOR FURTHER READING

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

COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Remdesivir to ‘end’ COVID-19 pandemic MISLEADING

The antiviral drug is not a miracle cure for the novel coronavirus.

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Dexamethasone is ‘life-saving’ only for some SEVERE COVID-19 cases

The study on the drug is also yet to be peer-reviewed.

About Vera Files

Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Contact Us

Email us at newsroom@verafiles.org

MEMBER