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Infectious Diseases

Updated 25 March 2020

FAKE NEWS on WhatsApp: Coronavirus, doctors from Vienna and 'killer' ibuprofen

WhatsApp users have been urged to be wary of fake news reports doing the rounds, including a recent one which claims to be based on a study by the Medical University of Vienna.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a huge surge in fake news doing the rounds on social media, including WhatsApp. From fake cures and conspiracy theories to fabricated new studies from different universities around the world, it has left many people with a sense of panic.

One of the most recent messages claims to be yet another study from the Medical University of Vienna, and reports that the university’s researchers, having studied the Covid-19 mortality rate in Italy, have found a link between patients taking Advil, ibuprofen, Mypaid, or Myprodol to control fever and getting sick.

The message has been circulating in both English and Afrikaans:

fake news

fake news


However, the university has since published a statement, rebuking the claims made in the message:

(Vienna, 14 March 2020) Text and voice messages are currently being distributed on various social media networks, which report alleged research results from the "Wiener Uniklinik" around Covid-19 symptoms.

The Medical University of Vienna expressly points out that this is fake news that is not related to the MedUni Vienna.

Ibuprofen and Covid-19 deaths: is there a link?

Earlier this week, Health24 reported on the World Health Organization’s statement, which advised that while they are not against using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, for Covid-19 symptoms, they do, however, recommend paracetamol as a safer option.

This statement came after the French Health Minister, Olivier Veran, tweeted that, based on a study in the The Lancet medical journal, anti-inflammatory medications could worsen Covid-19 infections.

According to the WHO, there simply isn't enough evidence to recommend against the use of NSAIDS, which are commonly used to relieve symptoms of headaches, painful periods, and colds and flu, among other pain.

However, until thorough, credible research on NSAIDs and the severity of illness caused by the new coronavirus becomes available, medical experts have advised that people stick to using paracetamol. 

If you are already taking medications with anti-inflammatory properties for other conditions, and are concerned you should stop, you should not do so without consulting your doctor. 

Spotting fake news

Misinformation and hoaxes that include wrongful medical advice will likely continue to be rampant for as long as we battle the new coronavirus.

Before forwarding the message to several of your contacts and being part of creating chaos, take some time to verify the authenticity of the message. Here are some tips to differentiate between what's real and fake:

  • Check if the information is available on trustworthy news sites, or the government, or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases' (NICD) website or social media accounts. If not, it is likely to be false.
  • Have a look at this News24 article that is updated with the latest "fake articles" and other hoaxes doing the rounds.
  • Poynter.org is another great fact-checking website for fake coronavirus news, and is also updated regularly. 
  • Does the message contain bad grammar or spelling errors? Reputable sources will always ensure their information is conveyed in clear, correct English.

*As of 24 March 2020, there are 554 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus in South Africa. Find all the updates here

READ MORE | How long can coronavirus survive in the air and on surfaces; and why do you need to wash your hands?