“In Italy, the coronavirus remedy was finally found,” reads a message circulating on Facebook since 20 May 2020. It claims that Covid-19 is caused by a bacterium, not a virus, and can be treated with the common drug aspirin.
Several versions of the message are doing the rounds, all claiming that Italian doctors defied orders from the World Health Organization (WHO) and autopsied people who had died from Covid-19. This is supposedly how they found that “a bacteria” causes the disease.
What is Covid-19?
Viruses are tiny bundles of genetic material enclosed in a protein coat. They only reproduce by hijacking the cells of other organisms such as animals, plants and even bacteria. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that reproduce by themselves. Both viruses and bacteria can cause disease.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. The scientific consensus is that the disease Covid-19 is caused by a coronavirus called Sars-CoV-2. Other coronaviruses cause other diseases, such the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars.
The new coronavirus was identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019. The genome of the virus was sequenced and publicly released by February 2020. Since then, other samples of the genome have been recorded, including a sequence taken from a case in Nepal.
Many parts of the virus have been modelled based on this genetic information. Together with images of the virus taken with sensitive microscopes, these have given scientists a reliable idea of what the virus looks like.
All of this evidence would not be possible if Covid-19 was caused by a bacterium only discovered five months into the global outbreak.
Autopsies and the WHO?
The message claims that Italian doctors defied the WHO’s “global health law not to perform an autopsy” on Covid-19 patients. But there is no such ban.
The organisation has published evidence-based recommendations for countries and healthcare workers. These are non-binding, not a “global law”, and don’t advise against autopsies. They do include advice on how healthcare workers can keep themselves safe from infection while performing autopsies.
A 14 May review of literature by Italian academics did suggest that too little autopsy-based research into Covid-19 had been published. But it did not mention any global law preventing doctors from performing autopsies. As of 26 May, no autopsy research had found that Covid-19 was caused by a strain of bacteria.
But could aspirin still help treat it?
Aspirin can thin blood
Aspirin is a common drug often used for pain relief. As the British National Health Service (NHS) explains, daily low doses of aspirin are also sometimes recommended to thin the blood and prevent heart attacks and strokes.
But the NHS warns: “Taking low-dose aspirin isn’t safe for everyone. Only take low-dose aspirin if your doctor recommends it.” Aspirin can have serious side effects.
The Facebook message suggests that aspirin’s blood-thinning effects are what allow it to treat Covid-19. It says the non-existent bacterium it claims causes the disease also “causes blood clots to form and causes the death of the patient”.
The message claims that aspirin and other blood-thinning drugs can prevent thrombosis, the formation of clots in blood vessels, and so prevent Covid-19 deaths.
Aspirin no ‘cure’ for Covid-19
Blood-thinning medications are being considered as possible Covid-19 treatments, and at least one small trial, with just over 100 participants, is examining whether aspirin can reduce the severity of Covid-19 symptoms. At least one larger trial, with just over 1,000 participants, has also been proposed.
But at time of writing, there are no published results from clinical trials of aspirin.
The British Journal of Haematology has said that “crucial questions remain to be addressed” about this treatment. It has not recommended any medication for Covid-19. Some scientists suspect blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin may lower mortality rates in Covid-19 patients, but they are not described as a “cure”.
Widely debunked myths
Most versions of the message include references to other false claims and conspiracy theories. One warns: “Many people will Die in the coming months ahead because of Mask wearing.” Africa Check has debunked the claim that wearing a face mask can lead to death.
Many say that 5G telecoms technology somehow causes or spreads the new coronavirus. This is also untrue, as Africa Check’s factsheet on 5G explains.
The main claims in the message have been debunked by fact-checking organisations worldwide, including French newspaper Le Monde, Italian Facta, Spanish Newtral, German Correctiv and the Irish Journal.
The WHO has not banned or even advised against autopsies, and no doctors have found that Covid-19 is caused by a bacterium. While blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin are being tested, among other treatments, they are not a cure for Covid-19. – Keegan Leech
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Fighting coronavirus misinformation
Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.
Learn more about the alliance here.
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