New research has revealed that harmful health advice, or “fake news”, circulating on social media and in person during an infectious disease epidemic could make the outbreak worse.
The NIHR-funded research focused on three contagious diseases - influenza, monkeypox and norovirus - across two studies, using computer simulations of the spread of these diseases to test the effect of sharing dangerously wrong information on human health during a disease outbreak.
In the first study, completed by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the team focussed on influenza, norovirus and monkeypox, building a computer agent-based model: a computer simulation that predicts the spread of a contagious disease by capturing the behaviour of individuals in a population.
They then modelled sharing of health advice classified as useful or harmful by individuals, and subsequent risky behaviours that can spread contagious disease, such as not washing hands and sharing food with ill people.
Ultimately, the researchers found that reducing the amount of harmful advice being circulated by just 10% - from 50% to 40% - mitigated the influence of bad advice on the outcomes of a disease outbreak.
The information is as relevant than ever, with Coronavirus still spreading globally.
"Fake news is manufactured with no respect for accuracy, and is often based on conspiracy theories” reminded Coronavirus expert professor Paul Hunter.
He continued, ”Worryingly, research has shown that nearly 40% of the British public believe at least one conspiracy theory, and even more in the US and other countries.
"When it comes to COVID-19, there has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the internet - about how the virus originated, what causes it and how it is spread.
"Misinformation means that bad advice can circulate very quickly - and it can change human behaviour to take greater risks.”
The research was part-funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Units in Emergency Preparedness and Response and Gastrointestinal Infections in partnership with Public Health England.
NHS England has released another update on the state of Coronavirus in the UK, saying that last of the guests staying at Arrowe Park after returning from China have left the hospital, and all but one of the patients being treated at other NHS Trusts have now been discharged after twice testing negative for coronavirus.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director said that “Over the coming weeks many more of us may need to spend some time at home to reduce the spread of the virus and they have set a great example.”