New website to check accuracy of Covid-19 information

NUIG researchers to help public access clear and precise facts on coronavirus

Researchers hope the service will encourage the public to think critically about health claims and make well-informed health choices. Photograph: iStock

Researchers hope the service will encourage the public to think critically about health claims and make well-informed health choices. Photograph: iStock

 

A new website which helps the public check the accuracy of information on Covid-19 has been developed by researchers at the National University of Ireland (NUI) in Galway.

The aim of Healthfacts.ie is to give clear, precise answers to frequently asked questions about Covid-19. Researchers will also answer questions submitted by the public via its website and related social media platforms.

“Our team of researchers have already collected and addressed a number of claims which can be viewed on iHealthFacts.ie,” explains Dr Sandra Galvin, programme manager of the Trials Methodology Research Network at NUI Galway. “These include: Can spraying alcohol or chlorine on your body prevent you becoming infected with the new coronavirus? (No) Does taking ibuprofen worsen the symptoms of Covid-19? (No). Does the use of petrol pumps spread Covid-19 rapidly? (No).”

Other misconceptions about how large doses of Vitamin C can prevent or treat Covid-19 or if Vitamin D supplements can prevent or treat Covid-19 are also rebutted by the researchers, while the role of face masks in preventing the spread of Covid-19 is given a more nuanced reply: essentially wearing a face mask stops you spreading the virus to others.

“Unreliable claims can lead to poorly informed choices, under- or over-use of things we do to improve or maintain health. Unreliable claims can also lead to unnecessary waste and human suffering,” says Elaine Finucane, iHealthFacts.ie lead researcher.

Team of advisers

The researchers stress that the website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of Covid-19. Funded by the Health Research Board, the website’s aim is to stem the tide of misinformation and disinformation about Covid-19 often spread through social media. Before posting the answers to questions, researchers assess the health claims by searching for evidence to support or refute the claim. The prepared responses are then reviewed by a team of evidence advisers from Irish universities.

Researchers hope the service will encourage the public to think critically about health claims and make well-informed health choices. Questions asked by the public will be answered, firstly prioritising any with misinformation that can harm the public and secondly choosing questions which have been asked most often.