IN SHORT: Paracetamol tablets stamped “P-500” do not contain Machupo virus. This claim continues to resurface on WhatsApp and Facebook in different countries, but there’s no scientific evidence to back it up.
At least six years after it first appeared, a message warning people not to take paracetamol tablets stamped with “P/500” or “P-500” is again circulating on WhatsApp in South Africa.
The message reads: “URGENT WARNING! Be careful not to take the paracetamol that comes written P/500. It is a new, very white and shiny paracetamol, doctors advise that it contains ‘Machupo’ virus, considered one of the most dangerous viruses in the world, with a high mortality rate ...”
No information is given about which doctors or medical institutions were consulted to reach this conclusion.
The Machupo virus causes Bolivian haemorrhagic fever, also known as black typhus, according to experts at US-based Stanford University. It is only endemic to Bolivia, a country in South America, meaning that cases have only been recorded there.
The Stanford report on the virus says it “is spread through aerosolised, food-borne or direct contact of virus particles”.
But can paracetamol pills be laced with Machupo virus?
Old hoax still false
At the time, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, secretary-general of the Nigerian Medical Association, told us: “Such a virus cannot survive outside a living organism.”
It is impossible for the Machupo virus to survive in a pill.
In 2017, fact-checking site Snopes also investigated the claim and found it to be false.
A statement from the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority, dated 7 May 2023, said the warning was “inaccurate and not a cause for concern”.
It said no cases of Machupo virus could be linked to paracetamol.
This hoax seems to recur regularly in different countries and is still false.
It may discourage people from taking the painkiller when they need it.
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