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By Sharon Hurley Hall
March 19, 2020
In the last three years, there’s been a rampant increase in reports of the use of digital marketing tools like social media to spread false information, commonly referred to as “fake news.” From the supposed deaths of many celebrities (like the Cher story below) to election tampering, it seems that this trend is – unfortunately – here to stay.
This is a particularly dangerous trend in the era of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. It’s often difficult to know how dangerous the virus is, who’s most affected, and what steps people should take to deal with it. For example, one popular fake news story, seen by thousands of people, suggests colloidal silver as a cure. However, the US FDA and FTC have denounced this as a scam.
But the more people talk about fake news, the less clear it is what exactly fake news entails, and how it actually spreads.
In this guide, we delve into the fake news phenomenon. You’ll learn:
- The definition and types of fake news
- The history of fake news
- How fake news spreads
- The psychology of fake news
- Fake news statistics
- Fake news in different digital marketing genres
- Where you’re likely to find fake news
- How to recognize and report fake news
We’ll also look at the top fake news websites, and assess the future of fake news.
Fake News in the Time of Corona
From fake cures to useless products, fake news about Covid-19 is spreading fast. Amazon has already deleted more than a million items deemed to be false advertising or price gouging.
The problem is, it’s not just a case of misinformation, but literally a matter of life or death. For example, the “miracle mineral supplement” contains a type of bleach and has serious side effects. And drinking alcohol to slow the virus, as some did in Iran, only results in alcohol poisoning.
To know how to handle the coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to be able to weed out reliable information (likely provided by your local health authority) from the fake stories that are rife on social media.
Fake News Defined (and Key Terminology)
A good place to start is with the definition of fake news. However, it turns out that there are almost as many fake news definitions as fake news stories. (Just kidding, but you’ll see what I mean.)
The OECD Forum Network defines fake news as:
“journalism or information that either deliberately or unintentionally misleads people and distorts reality by spreading false information, hoaxes, propaganda, or misrepresentation of facts”
The Cambridge Dictionary’s fake news definition is:
“false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke”
And Projekt Neptun defines fake news as:
“the distribution of false or questionable information that is either completely invented or sold as factually correct news”
Common elements are that the information is presented as news, that it’s false, and that it’s often widely distributed via social media.
Fake News Glossary
While fake news is a fairly common term these days, there are a bunch of other terms that refer to the same – or similar – issue. Here’s a breakdown of the most common offenders:
- Disinformation– false information meant to deceive or mislead, sometimes spread via the media as a government tactic
- Misinformation– false information, sometimes intended to mislead
- Propaganda– biased information which promotes a particular viewpoint
- Clickbait– content or headlines created to get attention and win clicks, but which may have little substance and may be misleading
- Computational propaganda– the use of bots to manipulate public opinion via social networks
- Post-truth– relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief
- Filter bubble– referring to the situation where web users only get information that reinforce the views they already have
- Deepfake– the use of AI technology to make or alter images or videos to show something that didn’t happen (an example is the Dali Lives exhibition by the Dali Museum in Florida, which brought the deceased artist back to life)
Types of Fake News
In addition to the terms above, Digital Marketing Philippines divides fake news into five categories:
- Satire or parody – this is intended to be humorous, but sometimes people share these stories as if they are real
- Misleading news used in the wrong context– this is where some facts are omitted, leading to a skewed view of what’s happened
- Sloppy reporting to achieve a certain agenda – similar to the above, and may result in clickbait headlines
- Misleading news based on popular narrative, not on facts– this can include urban myths
- Intentionally deceptive– true fake news as defined earlier
History and Rise of Fake News
Although people are talking about fake news a lot now, it turns out that fake news really isn’t all that new. The UC Santa Barbara Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS) says that fake news has been around for centuries.
Once the printing press was developed in the mid-15th century, information could be widely dispersed. That meant any organization that could benefit from pushing a particular perspective or agenda could start spreading misinformation, disinformation, and fake news.
Fast forward to the late 19th century, when technology became the catalyst for the next era of fake news. While people had been publishing newspapers for quite a while, the development of automatic typesetting and advances in communication technology made wider, faster circulation of information possible. But some of that information was definitely misleading.
Tabloid Journalism Grabs the Headlines
During this time, some papers would publish fake information just to win the headlines and attract readers (a bit like clickbait today). This was known as yellow journalism. In fact, there was a famous rivalry between US publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the 1890s, which is thought to have led the US into the Spanish-American War.
While eventually, there was some backlash as people started wanting more reliable and dependable news stories, the headline-grabbing trend never fully went away. Tabloid journalism like that published by the National Enquirer in the US (shown below) and papers like the now-defunct News of the World in the UK have continued to be popular.
At this point, most people recognized sensationalism when they saw it. But that was to change as further advances in technology began to play a role in the spread of fake news.
Fake News in the 21st Century
Fake news is often associated with the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. Indeed, he has often claimed to have invented the term.
In fact, it turns out that the person who invented and popularized the term “fake news” was Buzzfeed editor Craig Silverman. He started using the term in 2014 when he was running a research project on websites that spread unverified rumors but were designed to look like real news sites, and continued using it when he moved to Buzzfeed.
Coverage of fake news became more frequent with the 2016 US election. Subsequent to that election, it’s come out that Russian bots may have had a hand in popularizing anti-Clinton news stories and, therefore, directly leading to the election of Donald Trump.
Coverage of fake news became more frequent with the 2016 US election. Subsequent to that election, it’s come out that Russian bots may have had a hand in popularizing anti-Clinton news stories and, therefore, directly leading to the election of Donald Trump.
But this is not a problem that is unique to the US There’s a fear that elections across the globe have fallen prey to the same phenomenon.
As the US election interference story began to evolve, search for the term “fake news” peaked in 2017.
It’s now in common use, with an updated definition added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2019. People are even making fake news generators to help people create their own false news stories. While they are intended to be a bit of fun, they have helped spread fake news.
More recently, there’s been another twist. In addition to the accepted definitions of fake news, there’s a trend to dismiss any story that doesn’t match a person’s worldview as fake news, whether it’s factually true or not. As the BBC points out:
“All sorts of things – misinformation, spin, conspiracy theories, mistakes, and reporting that people just don’t like – have been rolled into it.“
While there are some stories that cross the globe, there are also those for particular localities. In Switzerland, a rumor spread via WhatsApp that hospitals were overloaded and people with Covid-19 were in beds in the hospital hallways.
In Africa, there are fake news stories about using Dettol or shaving your beard to fight the virus. In Italy, fake news about a lemon juice cure supposedly originating in China was shared more than 30,000 times. In India, a YouTube video about the origins of the virus (wrongfully claiming it originated from seafood) was viewed almost 5 million times.
In a global information society, and with a global pandemic, people are searching for information wherever they can find it. This type of fake news has the potential to stop people from taking the action that’s actually proven to work, while they focus on untested and unproven information.
Fake News: What’s Changed
We’ve seen the history of fake news and some of the terms that have been used to describe it over the centuries. But in the 21st century, fake news looks a little different from those early iterations.
Here’s a look at some of the key differences today:
- There are ideological interests in spreading fake news rather than simply tabloid journalists looking to sell papers. Several countries, including Russia, have been implicated in different misinformation campaigns.
- This distortion of news is done with the deliberate intent to deceive.
- It’s not always clear when a story is satire or fake because the way the stories are presented has evolved to fit seamlessly into social media spaces.
- Social media aggregation(rather than printed or online publications) is a key mechanism for spreading fake news.
- The spread of fake news is amplified by social media algorithms (more on that later) and social media fan and follower networks.
Fake news has become increasingly difficult to discern as reputable publications try to get more attention online, using tactics like clickbait headlines to make content more appealing and more likely to go viral.
This results in a situation where digital misinformation – yet another term for fake news – is a huge threat. As you’ll see, the latest fake news statistics show just how huge the problem has become.
Fake News Statistics
The latest fake news statistics reveal two main problems. First, fake news spreads insanely quickly. And second, it’s not always easy to identify fake news. The proliferation of coronavirus fake news stories, which are quickly shared, is proof of this. According to JSTOR, around 62% of adults in the US get their news on social media sites. And many report that they believe fake news stories.
A study cited on Mobile Marketing in early 2019 shows that almost one-third of adults with a social media account have seen something they consider to be fake news within the past week. That percentage rises to 51% over a three-month period.
People read headlines and think they are getting reliable information. But although 97% of people think they can easily spot fake news stories, a recent study suggests that fake news can be more difficult to identify than people think.
While fake news crosses political affiliations, Facebook is seen as the site where fake news is most prevalent. Some 70% of people said they had seen fake news on Facebook during the previous month. That compares with 54% on Twitter, 47% on YouTube, 43% on Reddit, and 40% on Instagram.
A big issue with fake news is its virality. Fake news can be more widely shared than real news on platforms like Facebook. And an MIT study shows that fake news spreads faster on Twitter than real news. On that platform, real news takes six times longer to spread than fake news.
The same MIT study shows that humans are more likely to spread fake news than bots. But as we’ll see, machines also have a huge role in the spread of fake news.
How Fake News Spreads
So how is it that fake news is able to spread so quickly? Senior Fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security Kalev Leetaru believes that we have turned over information gate-keeping to machines and algorithms, trusting them blindly even though we shouldn’t.
Instead of looking for information ourselves, we accept what we are fed and that’s a big danger. As Leetaru points out:
“These social media algorithms are optimized for virality and addictiveness, rather than truthfulness and evidentiary reporting. The more emotional, fact-free, and false a post is, the more likely it is to be pushed viral by these algorithms.”
But there’s also another factor. Once the algorithms surface the stories to be shared, it only takes a few people to make them go viral. For example, during the 2016 US election, a Futurity study found that 0.1% of Twitter users (super sharers) are responsible for sharing the majority of fake news. And 1% of Twitter users (super consumers) were exposed to 80% of said fake news. Since the majority of us are all hyper-connected, this amplifies the reach of the stories.
Research published on Science Advances shows that over-65-year-olds spread more fake news on Facebook than younger users. This holds true regardless of gender, ethnicity, income, education, or political affiliation. While the study did not say why this is the case, it suggested that lower digital literacy skills among older users and the effect of aging on memory could be factors in this trend.
Where Fake News Comes From
Who are these people spreading fake news, and where does it come from? An IEEE report found that fake news generally originates from less popular or less known websites or media outlets, and tends to be spread more by unverified social media users.
Other fake news may be carefully selected old news on topics known to be divisive, or something that’s true or real but is published in the wrong context. There’s always someone who hasn’t heard the news before, and who’s likely to spread it.
Apart from the human spreaders of fake news, there are also the artificial originators of that news. A University of Oxford report paints a bleak picture of the fake news situation. For example, since 2017, organized social media manipulation of false information has more than doubled.
Fake News in Politics
The interference in the 2016 US election is now a matter of record (recently reinforced by the testimony of foreign affairs expert Fiona Hill). But there’s another political case that demonstrates the pervasiveness of fake news. A dGen report on Brexit (the UK’s planned exit from the European Union) found that:
- Fake news around the Brexit referendum was heavily influenced by bots. One study of ten million tweets, showed 13,493 bots appeared just before the referendum and then disappeared just after, suggesting the goal was to influence the vote.
- The public was unable to get balanced information, and many failed to evaluate and cross-check the news they were getting.
- Some journalists reported opinions instead of being objective in a bid to satisfy their audience.
- There was bias in reporting on the EU; a later investigation found that 45% of BBC coverage was negative, compared to only 7% of stories that were positive.
- Both social media and news coverage were biased toward the Leave position, and half of the activity of Leave-supporting Twitter users amplified tweets that supported that position.
Fake News and the Coronavirus
So, what are some of the rumors about the coronavirus that have now been debunked? Here are a few of the most persistent ones:
- Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen will increase the spread of Covid-19. This is false. However, because ibuprofen has side effects for people with certain conditions, many doctors now recommend paracetamol for treating coronavirus symptoms.
- The “miracle mineral supplement” (MMS) mentioned earlier has been promoted as a coronavirus cure, but may actually cause vomiting and diarrhea because it contains chlorine dioxide.
- Colloidal silver, other minerals, and certain types of teas, are being suggested as possible cures, though again, health authorities have said these are false.
- There are multiple rumors about city shutdowns and quarantines. Most are false. Local authorities are the best source of reliable information on these.
- Inhaling hot air from a hairdryer won’t help people with the coronavirus
- Living in a hot climate, or exposure to cold, won’t stop the spread of the virus
- Corona beer sales are down because of the similarity in the name. According to the company, US sales have actually increased.
The UK Government on Fake News
The issue has become so pressing that the UK government published a report into fake news. It concluded that:
- The fake news epidemic was putting democracy at risk.
- The laws that had been previously created for the newspaper age weren’t fit for the internet age.
The Psychology of Fake News
Another factor in the spread of fake news is human psychology. When our brains are overloaded, we have less time to make informed judgments. That can lead us to fall back on social proof.
In other words, if enough other people think that a particular story is true, we may well believe the same rather than go through the trouble of fact-checking it for ourselves. In fact, 59% of people share social media messages and stories without even reading them. Since we rely on cues to decide what we should trust, someone with an agenda who knows how to craft a story the right way and spread it via social media bots can easily manipulate our reaction.
In relation to fake news about the coronavirus, this plays into another aspect of human psychology says Stanford University professor Jeff Hancock. The global pandemic makes us uncertain, and we look for information to reduce that uncertainty. Information that makes us feel better or gives us a target to blame can help us to feel better. He says it’s one of the reasons for the extreme popularity of conspiracy theories.
Fake News and Digital Marketing
Since social media is one of the main ways fake news spreads, it’s helpful to see how it affects other areas of digital marketing. While email marketing is not a key tactic for spreading fake news, some marketers try to use fake news to their advantage via content marketing.
For example, the Ohio Pork Council created and promoted a story about a bacon shortage as a marketing ploy, and even set up a website to support the claims (it’s now offline).
The problem with using fake news as a marketing tactic is that it can backfire. In the case of the Ohio Pork Council, it may have engineered a short-term boost in bacon sales, but it could also make people less likely to believe the Council the next time it posts. In other words, publishing fake news (and sharing it via email marketing) can erode trust in your brand.
Does Fake News Hurt Your Brand?
As you can imagine, it’s not just a question of the erosion of trust when talking about the effect of fake news on your brand. Using fake news in your digital marketing results in poor quality and is a pretty lazy approach, says Smart Insights.
But there’s also another good reason why it is something that you want to avoid. It turns out that if ads and promotions for your company are placed next to fake news stories, then your brand is tainted by association. People will be less likely to buy your products, visit your store, or say something positive about your brand.
The best advice for any marketer is, instead of using fake news in content marketing, consider taking the opportunity to become known for trustworthy content. That’s because fake news has a big impact on how people see your brand.
Fake News and Social Media: What the Public Thinks
While the previously cited UK government report focused largely on the use of Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, one of its key conclusions was that Facebook is not accountable enough for what is being perpetrated via its platform. In fact, external attempts to hold the social media site accountable have met with limited success.
But accountability is exactly what social media users want. Research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing says that 85% of people believe that social media sites should be responsible for removing fake news. In addition, 79% think that social media platforms should monitor fake news.
As fake news stories continue to surface, trust in social media content is beginning to decline. The Chartered Institute of Marketing survey showed that, compared with 2014, the number of people who said they trusted content on social media had almost halved. It now stands at 34%, which means two-thirds of people don’t trust social media content. And only 1% of those surveyed were confident that the content they see on social media is genuine.
Despite this growing distrust, it seems fake news content still gets shared. And there’s no incentive for those peddling fake news to stay honest. If they keep getting clicks and shares, they’ll keep churning out fake news.
What Social Media Sites Are Doing About Fake News
With the finger of blame pointed squarely at Facebook and Twitter, the pressure is on for those sites to do something about the fake news epidemic.
In the past year, there have been a number of initiatives. For example, Facebook has made it easier for people to check the source of a news story. Here’s how it works. News stories have a little information button you can click:
Facebook has also said that, ahead of the 2020 US election, the information will be fact-checked and clearly labeled to avoid the spread of fake news. Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will ban all political ads on the platform, something that Facebook has steadfastly refused to do. While it’s not a blanket ban on fake news, it should help address the issue, since so much fake news is about politics. And Instagram began a global rollout of improved fact-checking tools in December 2019.
How Tech Companies are Handling Coronavirus Fake News
The world’s biggest social media companies may usually be deadline rivals, but they’ve come together to combat the coronavirus fake news epidemic. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Linkedin, Reddit, and YouTube issued a joint statement to say they are working to:
- Fight misinformation and fraud related to Covid-19 information
- Give authoritative content on the virus a more prominent position on their platforms
- Coordinate the sharing of valid information with government and care agencies worldwide
- Banning misleading advertising (Facebook)
- Banning content aimed at fostering panic (Facebook)
- Verifying accounts that give access to official UK NHS advice (Twitter and Facebook)
Top Fake News Websites
Who’s originating the fake news that is being shared? It turns out that fake news is a big business, with many getting paid to come up with stories pushing a perspective, and start them off on their social media journey. For example, a Guardian report suggests a public relations firm received a payment of $2,000 for promoting biased newspaper articles in support of one candidate running for Congress.
A story in The Hindu suggests that Indian interests are managing 265 fake news sites in more than 65 countries. And CBS published a list of common fake news sites, including:
- Your News Wire
- World News Report
There are dozens more, many collated in this list on Wikipedia.
How to Combat Fake News
It’s a worrying trend that some people are unable to distinguish between real news and fake news. Here are some ways that you can avoid being among them.
NPR suggests that it pays to be skeptical about what you view online. Just as you do when you’re preparing a research paper, look to see if the same information is coming from different sources.
Importantly, these have to be sources that are known to be trustworthy, such as reliable news sources or unbiased government or educational websites. It’s even more important to do this due diligence on hot button topics or issues where some people could benefit from pushing a particular viewpoint or agenda. Check that the statements presented in an article are verifiable by looking for the sources.
Since we can’t always trust that publications or organizations will verify the information for us, it is important to take matters into our own hands. Luckily, while apps and algorithms can help spread fake news, they can also help you to identify it and stop it in its tracks. It’s just a matter of training the algorithms to recognize it.
One option for fact-checking is the Informable app from the News Literacy Project.
The app helps you figure out whether:
- Stories are news or opinion
- Stories are really ads
- Claims in the stories are backed up
WhatsApp, another common source for spreading unverified information, has its own checklist of things to look out for. One key tip is to be aware that, even if something is shared multiple times, it doesn’t necessarily make it true.
The social messaging app urges you to:
- Pay attention to messages that have been forwarded so that you can tell whether they originated from the person that sent them to you
- Check whether photos have been doctored
- Look out for suspicious links
- Help stop the spread of fake news by asking the person who sent information to you to verify it before you share it yourself
An app called Check by Meedan helps you fact check WhatsApp stories.
And there’s an experimental fake news detector where you can type in a story and immediately check its veracity.
That’s because research suggests that there are subtle differences in language between verified information and a fake news story.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has launched WT Social, a paid news-focused social media site that aims to share only verified information.
The UK government has simplified spotting fake news into a five-point checklist, which it calls the SHARE checklist:
- Source – check if the source is trustworthy
- Headline– ask yourself if what follows the headline is believable
- Analyze– check the facts
- Retouched– see if the image has been manipulated
- Error – watch out for fake URLs, especially those that have been badly spelled
Finally, you can also check fake news on Snopes.com and other popular myth-busting sites.
Where to Find Reliable News About the Coronavirus
If you’re looking for reliable information about the coronavirus, here are some useful resources:
- The World Health Organization’s coronavirus updates page
- The Centers for Disease Controlin the US
- The NHSin the UK
- Reputable news sources either within your country, or those that offer global live coverage like the BBCand CNN
- Your country’s, city’s or town’s official health information
- Global statistics on Covid-19 cases, like this page from Worldometer
Next, we look at what you do if you find fake news on a particular platform.
How to Report Fake News
As social media and web users, we all have a part to play in combating the spread of fake news. Don’t just recognize and ignore fake news; help to stop it by reporting it. Every fake news story we successfully get rid of makes the web a slightly more trustworthy place.
Most social media sites have an easy way for you to report spam. Recently, many have expanded this functionality to allow social media users to report misleading information.
Facebook has the functionality to let you report misleading accounts. For example, if you suspect your friend’s account has been cloned or hacked, you can report any information you believe to be false. This functionality works for flagging questionable material, too.
Once you click on Find support or report posts, you can report fake news directly. There are several options for feedback on questionable content, including marking it as false news.
Similarly, Twitter allows you to easily flag and report spam accounts. And in 2019 it launched a tool to help people report fake news directly during election campaigns. This adds “it’s misleading about voting” to the other reporting options.
You can also report false information on Instagram. And in Google search results, you can use the feedback tool to report misleading information and attach a screenshot of it.
The Future of Fake News
Is fake news here to stay? It seems like it. People are more informed about fake news than they were in the past, but that still doesn’t mean that they are able to spot it.
A report looking at fake news in the US in 2018 found that people saw less fake news that year than they had the year before. However, some people, such as hardcore partisans on both sides of a political battle, see quite a lot of it.
Plus, if you’re on platforms like Twitter, where US President Donald Trump posts regularly, you’re even more likely to be subjected to fake news. Since taking office, he’s known to have made more than 15,000 misleading statements. And he’s also been shown to have made several false claims about the spread of coronavirus and responses to the pandemic in the US.
Although social media sites are taking steps to safeguard users against fake news, these measures seem woefully inadequate. A test by Nieman Lab showed that Facebook itself was only able to spot 30% of fake news stories. That suggests that 70% of fake news stories could still be seen and shared.
Options for muting and blocking certain content are also inadequate. In an ideal world, social media sites would be so good at weeding out fake news that users would never see it at all. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
In fact, fake news remains a huge cybersecurity issue and a threat to democracy.
There is some hope. As Mark Schaefer points out, one of the big issues surrounding fake news is the lack of laws surrounding its publication. But one country has already started to deal with that issue.
Singapore’s controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (POFMA) came into effect in October 2019. Under the law, those found to be publishing false information that goes against the interests of the country could attract fines of up to $720,000 (USD) and jail terms of up to ten years. For this reason, it’s been criticized as a law that allows for the stifling of dissent.
Within a month, that law had been applied for the first time to a Facebook post questioning whether investment firms were independent. As a result, a correction notice and a link to a government statement about the post were added to the original post.
Other countries taking steps to fight fake news legally include France, Germany, China, and Kenya. In some cases, it’s because of upcoming elections; while in others, it seems like a case of being prepared.
What Next for Fake News?
In the 21st century, we’re in the reputation era where being trustworthy is more important than ever before. This is especially important among younger millennials, who are already interested in companies’ ethics, are a major consumer segment, and who will soon be of voting age. And it’s essential when the spread of fake news affects our ability to get reliable information about the coronavirus pandemic.
Self-regulation isn’t yet effective, so legal remedies such as the Singapore law may become the only option for fighting fake news. Another valid approach is education. Finland has tried this with some success, and is now ranked as the most media literate country in the world.
Meanwhile, the European Union has an action plan to address online disinformation and the Law Library of Congress is collecting information on initiatives around the world to combat fake news. There’s also a sliver of hope from online activist group Avaaz, which actively fights online misinformation, and reports on fake news.
These may provide more strategies for fighting fake news in the long run. One thing’s for sure, though, with elections happening constantly around the world, and people invested in influencing voter opinion, the issue of fake news isn’t going away any time soon.
In this in-depth guide, you’ve learned:
- How fake news is defined, and some of the other key terms that describe this kind of online falsehood
- Different types of fake news, ranging from those intended as satire to those intended to deliberately deceive
- The rise of fake news including a peak period around the 2016 US election and Brexit
- How technology is used to create and spread fake news with some help from human sharers
- The impact of fake news in digital marketing
- How you can spot and report fake news and what social media sites are doing about it
- What’s likely to happen with fake news in the near future
Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her work has been published on Jilt, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, GrowthLab, Unbounce, OnePageCRM, Search Engine People, and Mirasee. Sharon is certified in content marketing and email marketing. In her previous life, Sharon was also a journalist and university journalism lecturer.
Some Children Are Developing a Mysterious Blood Illness That May Be Related to Coronavirus
Fifteen children have been hospitalized in New York City with the illness, with similar cases being reported in Europe.
By Julie Mazziotta
May 05, 2020
A small number of children in the U.S. and Europe have been hospitalized with an unknown blood illness that may be related to the new coronavirus, COVID-19.
Doctors say that the mysterious, “multisystem inflammatory” illness they’re seeing in children is similar to two known conditions: toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening bacterial infection, and Kawasaki disease, a very rare, but treatable, condition more common in babies and toddlers that causes inflammation in blood vessels.
Doctors in the U.K., Spain and Italy had previously reported seeing a few cases of the illness, and on Monday night, the New York City Department of Health put out a memo to hospitals warning that there have now been 15 identified cases in the city’s hospitals.
The 15 children in NYC are between the ages of 2 and 15 and have symptoms similar to toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease. All have had a fever, and most have had a rash, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. Four of the children have tested positive for COVID-19, but the other 11 did not.
None of the children have died, but most needed blood pressure support. And while the majority did not have respiratory problems, five needed to be put on ventilators.
NYC health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot asked doctors to look out for patients who may have this illness.
“Even though the relationship of this syndrome to Covid-19 is not yet defined, and not all of these cases have tested positive for Covid-19 by either DNA test or serology, the clinical nature of this virus is such that we are asking all providers to contact us immediately if they see patients who meet the criteria we’ve outlined,” she said in the memo.
“And to parents, if your child has symptoms like fever, rash, abdominal pain or vomiting, call your doctor right away,” she added.
COVID-19 does not appear to affect children in the same way that it is attacking adults, although a small number of children in the U.S. have died from the virus. This illness, while worrisome, also seems to be very rare.
New York state health commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker said that they are investigating the illness.
“So far, from what we understand, this is a rare complication in the pediatric population that they believe is related to Covid-19,” he told The New York Times. “We are following it very closely.”
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.This article originally appeared on People.com.
NOTE: Dr. Guise will update this article as new information becomes available, up until everything gets back to normal.
Did You Already Have Coronavirus Without Knowing It? Experts Explain Why That's Possible
One 28-year-old woman developed a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath during a trip to New York City in February, but her doctor assumed it was the flu. Was it actually COVID-19, and what would the implications be?
By Jenna Birch
Updated April 08, 2020
Toward the end of February, I traveled to New York City for a work trip. On day four or five, I started to feel ill. I did not have a thermometer, and so I did not think to take my temperature. But I was extremely tired, had a mild sore throat, developed a dry cough, and had trouble walking around the city due to shortness of breath.
Back home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a week later, I was waking up in the middle of the night with coughing fits. The cough was “unproductive,” a term that I have now learned means I was not able to expel mucus. The coughing spells would be overwhelming, often leaving me hoarse and feeling like I was going to throw up. My shortness of breath was growing more persistent, as well. Generally active and an avid walker, I could barely take my dog outside for a few minutes a day before needing to sit down.
Finally, after about two weeks, I went to see a doctor. “This just doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever had,” I remember telling him. He listened to my lungs, which sounded more or less okay. He declared it “a virus,” insisting it might take two or three weeks to fully run its course. Coronavirus crossed my mind because of the shortness of breath, but very few people were talking about it at the time and it was only being reported on the West Coast. I thought to myself, If it was even possible, he’d test me, right? I did not realize how little testing was actually being done anywhere in the country at that time.
HILL STREET STUDIOS/GETTY IMAGES
About one week after I got home from my trip on March 1, New York City’s first official diagnosis of COVID-19 was announced. Now that weeks have passed, I am recovered from that peculiar respiratory illness. And as I learned about the novel coronavirus, I have become more curious as to whether I may have contracted it in February.
Perhaps a lot of us are thinking about our most recent illnesses, and wondering the same thing as I am: was it a bad cold, the flu, or perhaps COVID-19? So I reached out to doctors who might be able to help me figure it out—and explain what it would mean if I did have the coronavirus.
Why anyone who was sick earlier this year might have had undiagnosed COVID-19
Scientists believe the virus emerged in China in December 2019. International travel continued throughout January, as cases popped up in other destinations—such as Australia, Bangkok, South Korea, France, the UK, Japan, and Russia. The US confirmed its first COVID-19 case on January 21. But the virus was already spreading other places, too.
By the time we recognized the start of the pandemic in the US, it’s very possible it was already here and well-established. Part of the problem in tracking the virus has been its vague symptom profile, which is relatively similar to symptoms you would have with the common cold or influenza, especially in the virus’s milder forms: dry cough, pressure of pain in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, and diarrhea.
Pandemics start slow but pick up heat as community spread begins. According to Greg Schrank, MD, MPH, an associate hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and COVID-19 response co-incident commander, epidemiological studies and genetic analysis of the virus indicate COVID-19 was likely “circulating in these epicenter communities for weeks to months” before those locations began to experience a surge of cases.
- RELATED: Not Every Parent Can Be Home With Their Kids During COVID-19—Here's How to Find Child Care & Limit Exposure
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this virus has been spreading in the United States since the very early part of the year, perhaps in early January or very late December, Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, MPH, an associate chair and professor of health science at Ball State University in Indiana, tells Health. “Given the timelines and incubation period reported by studies, it could be possible that many Americans had this infection way back and we are just now getting to see the severe most cases,” he says.
When the virus is just beginning to spread in a community, with low numbers of infected people, “the time it takes for the number of cases to double” was observed to be a week or more, Dr. Schrank tells Health. “The doubling time is primarily determined by the incubation period along with the number of people that are actively infected and can spread the virus to others,” he says. “As the prevalence of infection increases in a community, this doubling time decreases, and the growth of the epidemic becomes exponential.”
Early on, the virus was likely making the rounds, but in relative stealth mode, misperceived as other common respiratory illnesses. Now that we have a critical mass of patients and improved testing access, we are starting to experience rapid doubling of the virus, which leads to exponential growth and a surge of infections. One problem of not testing early and widely is that we don’t currently know who’s been infected—which could provide important insight for individuals and the country at large.
The implications of knowing if you've been exposed
If you contract COVID-19 and then subsequently fight the virus off, the theory among many scientists is that you become immune to reinfection. Like similar coronaviruses, antibodies develop to help your body defeat the illness, and the body develops at least short-term immunity as those antibodies linger around after COVID-19 is gone.
This is why knowing who has immunity could be critical as we await a vaccine. “Many people will become infected,” William Schaffner, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, tells Health. “The question is, will we be able to determine who has been infected and who remains susceptible? We would have to test everyone to see if they have evidence in their bloodstream of proteins that would indicate they’ve been exposed.”
To look for those proteins, we need a screening method. “Laboratories are working to develop a blood test to look for antibodies which are a sign that a person was recently infected with COVID-19,” says Dr. Schrank. As of April 2, the FDA issued its first approval to Cellex, Inc. for a test that would allow medical professionals to look for antibodies. About 30 other companies have tests like this in the works, as well.
Of course, knowing if you were exposed and asymptomatic or had a mild form of COVID-19 and now in the clear, would relieve a lot of stress and wonder. But nationally, knowing who’s immune could have broader implications. “It might, if it were quick and easy, determine who needs to be vaccinated and who doesn’t,” says Dr. Schaffner. He also says it could “help communities decide how open they could be again.”
Germany has been working on widely testing for immunity, so they can get certain people back to work sooner rather than later. Some leaders in the UK are also pushing for “immunity passports,” which would clear some essential workers to get back to their jobs by testing to see if they’ve been exposed to the virus.
Knowing who has already been affected is helpful because antibodies can also be used to treat COVID-19. “The FDA just approved the use of antibodies from recovered patients for new cases as an emergency investigational new drug protocol,” says Khubchandani. On March 28, Houston Methodist in Texas became the first hospital in the country to offer a plasma transfusion for COVID-19; Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City also began offering them. The hope is that lending plasma with antibodies that developed in response to the novel coronavirus will help some patients overcome the disease easier.
What to do now
Dr. Schaffner senses that a lot of people will want to know if they’re immune. “We’d like to test first responders; many people of a certain age will want to know,” he says. Dr. Schaffner adds that it’s about making a test streamlined, so it can be made widely available.
If there’s a silver lining to this global pandemic, it’s that every ounce of the world’s scientific innovation is being thrown at the coronavirus right now. “We must remain optimistic, as all textbook and novel methods are being tried [to fight COVID-19],” says Khubchandani.
In the meantime, even if you think you may have been infected, it’s important to act like you’re supremely vulnerable—for your sake, and for others’ sakes—because there’s no way to know for sure. “Social distancing is absolutely key,” says Dr. Schaffner. “It is the thing we can do today to prevent the acquisition of infection because it’s transmitted within close contact. Mild symptoms or no symptoms, you can be contagious; anyone can just breathe out the virus, and if you are standing close, and could get infected. That is why everyone has to maintain social distance, you can’t just focus on who has cold or fever.”
Personally, I’m hoping for that antibody test, so I can figure out my own level of immunity. But if I never get it and never learn if my illness earlier this year wasn't COVID-19, I’m more than okay practicing social distancing—to make myself and my community safer during this life-altering pandemic.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
Isolation during COVID-19 can be worse for those suffering from anxiety. Experts offer ways families can work together to ease anxiety symptoms and get through quarantine together.
By Claire Gallam
March 26, 2020
The constant news about the number of COVID-19 cases rising and its effects on the country is enough to worry anyone. But for those who suffer from some form of generalized anxiety disorder (about 40 million adults and more than 4 million children in America), this news can be more than just unsettling—especially during a quarantine—and cause their anxiety to spin out of control.
"COVID-19 is causing so much anxiety because the situation is unprecedented and uncertain," says Alexandra Friedmann Finkel, LCSW, a therapist and co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy in New York City. "People are craving answers, security, and comfort, and the media is not able to provide that as information is developing moment by moment."
So, what can you do if you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety during this time? Implementing these expert tips into your daily life during the quarantine may help ease your mind.
Focus on What You Can Control
There are things we can't control during the pandemic. That includes the virus happening, what the media is reporting, policies that the government is putting in place, and the financial market.
But there are things we can actually control, like washing our hands, coughing into our elbow or a tissue, social distancing when possible, engaging in positive coping strategies, and our reaction to the situation. Giving your energy to these things may be helpful in putting your mind at ease, says Finkel.
Take a Break from Social Media
There's nothing that can relieve instant stress faster than getting rid of the culprit immediately, says Finkel. If you're with your family at home, set up a "no phone hour" or "no social media Saturday." Things like this will help disconnect from the stressors and connect with loved ones instead.
Tara Egan, D.Ed., of Charlotte Parent Coaching, LLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, agrees: "The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet. It may be tempting to use that as a primary modality to entertain themselves, but it can also lead to more feelings of uneasiness, insecurity, increased dread, and even doubt."
Start a New Hobby Together
Although the go-to may be to hop on the couch and binge a few shows on Netflix, TV is not necessarily the best way to help combat the symptoms of anxiety either. Instead, start a new hobby with your loved one, even if it's from afar due to social distancing. This helps take the mind off stress by giving it a new focus.
If you live with your loved ones, you could try things like knitting, crocheting, or maybe even yoga. If you don't live together, opt for a virtual book club or set up teatime every afternoon.
It can be reassuring to remember that even as we are all apart physically, we are all in this together.
- RACHEL DUBROW, LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
Make a Schedule
When you're stuck at home, it can be so easy to fall into unhealthy routines. From not practicing proper hygiene to lying in bed longer or putting off chores, the simple act of giving up only adds to the stress and anxiety caused by a pandemic. Set a new schedule—and add some fun elements to it as well.
"While being at home with my family, I am grateful for the time we have for simple rituals like family dinners. We try to involve the entire family, so it feels like something new and fun," explains Anna Cabeca, D.O., triple board certified OB-GYN and author of The Hormone Fix.
Self-care is a great way for people to reduce stress. That's why it's important to encourage yourself, your partner, or child to find a method of self-care that works and do that. "For some of my patients, we've found that music can be powerful self-care," says Finkel. "Create a COVID-19 playlist to do work to, take a walk to, or just listen without distraction."
Other forms of self-care that therapists recommend are reading a book, organizing or cleaning a messy space, taking a long bath with candles and soothing sounds, or simply taking a few moments to rest or meditate (you can use a meditation app like Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace, and there are apps that are perfect for kids).
Something as simple as doing a face mask can be enough to relieve some anxiety, so find whatever is most relaxing.
Opt For At-Home Exercise
Research shows that exercise is one of the most powerful ways to reduce anxiety, thanks to the burst of endorphins you get after breaking a sweat. "Releasing endorphins is an effective way to fight stress and anxiety and to give your mind a break from everything," says Finkel.
Do an in-home workout with help from a favorite gym—both Orangetheory Fitness and Shred415 are offering members classes to take at home—or sign up for low-cost or free classes from sites like Daily Burn or even fitness videos on YouTube. Of course this is something you can also do with others while keeping a six-foot distance.
If you need fresh air, go for a run or walk (keep at least six feet away from anyone outside your household). If you're financially able to, it's also worth looking into companies like Peloton and Mirror, which are offering discounts to new buyers as well.
Create Happy Hours (Even Virtually)
Maintaining social networks is a great way to stay upbeat and feel a connection through the quarantine. You can do this by planning FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom dates, says Rachel Dubrow, LCSW, a therapist in Northfield, Illinois. "One good suggestion is to make contact with one friend and one family member daily if you live alone and at least one person daily if you live with others," says Dubrow. "It can be reassuring to remember that even as we are all apart physically, we are all in this together."
Also, create a fun happy hour at the end of each day. Whether it's by mixing up new cocktails to try together (either alcoholic or non-alcoholic) or simply setting some time aside to talk about things unrelated to COVID-19—like new books, movies they want to watch, or places they want to see—creating an impromptu party or social session can help you reconnect on a deeper level.
The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet.
- TARA EGAN, D.ED.
Focus on Gratitude
Mentally detox by taking time to reflect and be thankful for the little things. For Hayley Parker, food blogger and writer at The Domestic Rebel, she found that using a gratitude journal was one of the best ways to cope with her anxiety. "I have started writing down five things I'm grateful for each day. Sometimes I find the usual, obvious things like 'that my family is safe' can be too broad, so I do little things like 'my coffee was delicious this morning' to help me redirect anxiety and stay present," says Parker. "The future is unknown and that is horrid for my anxiety, so staying present helps."
On that note, it's also critical to focus on compassion to help your loved ones suffering from anxiety. "When they're opening up, don't dismiss their fears with statements like, 'Oh, stop worrying. We'll be fine,'" says Dr. Egan. "Instead, make statements like, 'Yes, it is pretty stressful in our world right now. Let's make a plan of how we can follow the CDC's recommendations so we can stay safe and healthy.' Validate their emotions."
If you, your partner, friend, or child is suffering on an even deeper level, encourage them to seek help immediately. In today's climate, therapists are making themselves available 24/7 using online mediums, FaceTime, and even apps like Talkspace and Sanvello to communicate with patients during the COVID-19 epidemic.
"Most therapists have converted to teletherapy, and insurers are consistently covering video sessions in light of ongoing social distancing," says Nina Kaiser, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Practice San Francisco. "This makes support accessible from home for anyone, anywhere—and professional support is more likely to be helpful to someone experiencing severe anxiety than anything that we as partners can say or do."
I've homeschooled all three of my kids by choice for four years. Here is my advice on how to help your kids learn from home as their schools are shut down because of coronavirus.
By Sarah Bradley
March 17, 2020
Long before COVID-19 forced school closures, I was sitting at my kitchen table with my school-aged kids, teaching them math, science, language arts, and social studies. I've homeschooled all three of my sons, aged 5 through 9, from preschool on up. My oldest is currently in third grade (although grade levels are usually pretty fluid in homeschool).
It's normal for us and we love it, but for millions of American families facing unexpected school closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, homeschooling has been forced on them rather than chosen. Now, many parents are left scrambling to educate their kids at home when they didn't plan on it, don't really want to, and just plain don't know-how.
I'll be honest: Homeschooling is more complex than it may seem from the outside and it takes practice. You and your kids won't adapt to it right away, but that doesn't mean you're failing or doing it wrong. In order to happily homeschool, you'll have to look at learning through a different lens than what you're used to.
And online learning with tools like Google Classroom, which schools across the country are prepping for, is something older kids may be able to navigate easily. But for younger kids, it might be a bigger struggle to help them get their work done. But here's what you need to know about making a temporary home-school situation work for your family.
CATHERINE DELAHAYE/GETTY IMAGES
Forget what you think you know about homeschooling.
Most homeschooling families don't chain themselves to chairs for eight hours every day. Sure, the older your child is, the more time you'll spend on formal, sit-down instruction—but my third grader is the only one of my kids who spends part of his day reading from texts and answering questions (and it's truthfully a pretty small part of his day). Meanwhile, I ask my preschooler and first-grader for about 15 minutes of their attention before we move on to more hands-on learning activities.
There are no rules about how long homeschool should take, but I usually start with 20 to 30 minutes in kindergarten and then move up in 20 to 30 minutes increments for each grade level after that. If you're a temporary homeschooler or just starting out, I would cut those numbers in half and call it a day.
Don't try to recreate a school environment.
School at home is not the same as school at school. Don't waste time, energy, and sanity trying to make your homeschool function like a classroom—it just isn't necessary. Embrace the fact that your kids will be learning in entirely new ways for the time being.
It's OK to homeschool in your pajamas, or in the backyard if you have one, or in a blanket fort under the top bunk. It's OK to skip the fraction flashcards and get your kids baking in the kitchen with you. It's OK to spin a globe, land on a random country, and look up that country on YouTube. And it's definitely OK to go for a backyard bug scavenger hunt and call it science. Us full-time homeschoolers do these things all the time!
Follow a basic routine with built-in breaks.
Unless your child is especially averse to routine, it's smart to establish a basic flow for your day. I'm not an advocate of a strict homeschool schedule (though it absolutely works for some families), but my kids appreciate knowing generally what's coming next. That will likely be the case for kids who are used to their school schedule too.
First we free play, then we learn, then we practice, explore, build, create, whatever. Then we all take a break because we all need one—including me.
If you've ever bemoaned the lack of recess or playtime in your child's school, this is your chance to correct it, at least for right now. If you spend 30 minutes learning in earnest, give your kids twice as much time to regroup. Quiet reading, building with Legos, coloring, playing card games, and yes, even practicing skills with semi-educational apps on a tablet are all great ways to power down periodically without losing your groove.
Count quality, not quantity.
Here's a word problem for you: If Mom A spends 10 minutes working through math equations with her son and only completes five problems, and Mom B spends 45 minutes harassing her son to complete all 25 math equations on his own until they're both frustrated and crying, which child had a more meaningful learning experience?
Duh, it's Mom A's kid, because even though he accomplished less, he had Mom's full attention for 10 minutes. She connected with her child and gave him a chance to ask questions, correct mistakes, and feel good about his skills. It may be hard, but resist the temptation to tally up how much work your kids complete and focus instead on how many minutes you spent being fully present and attuned to them. That kind of 1:1 instruction, even for a short period of time, goes a lot further than long bouts of semi-distracted learning.
Follow your child's interests.
If you need an older child to work independently, it's OK to set aside her existing curriculum or unit studies and let her concentrate on what she wants to learn.
Is she obsessed with Billie Eilish (who, coincidentally, was also homeschooled)? Cool, that's a unit study. Have your daughter research Eilish online and write a short biography (social studies). Ask her to compare and contrast record sales between Eilish and other top female music artists like Madonna and Britney Spears (math). Tell her to study all the lyrics from Eilish's debut album and analyze them like poems, searching for connections and hidden meanings (language arts).
Basically, almost any topic of interest can be turned into a multidisciplinary unit if you think outside the box just a little. Your child will learn across a variety of subjects and be able to self-direct a lot of their own study. Slam dunk.
Lower the bar (a few times).
I have no doubt that you're a smart and capable parent if you're reading this. But even the most skilled homeschoolers struggle to find a rhythm each year and have to rethink, replan, and strategize when things aren't working.
Wherever your expectations are set right now, you should probably lower them (and then lower them again, once more, for good measure). If you're hitting that bar, you're doing fine. If you're surpassing it, pat yourself on the back. And if you're consistently missing it, don't throw in the towel yet—try to figure out where things are going wrong and self-correct if you can.
But mostly? Have fun. It's a scary world out there, and the single best thing you can do for your kids right now is making your home a safe, happy place.
5 Free Online Learning Programs for Kids to Do at Home
You don't need to create teacher-level lesson plans to make sure kids keep on learning at home. Here are a few free resources to take advantage of while creating a plan for keeping little ones learning outside of the classroom.
By Libby Ryan
March 16, 2020
With schools and daycares closing due to safety concerns over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), parents all over the country need to find ways to keep kids busy for the length of a school day. While you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to create teacher-level lesson plans to implement while you're balancing a new work from home schedule, you can still make some of the day educational.
Here are five free online learning resources to take advantage of while creating a plan for keeping little ones learning outside of the classroom.
1. Scholastic Learn at Home
Scholastic Learn at Home is a 20-day program to keep kids entertained and learning through videos, stories, and problem-solving challenges. The website is divided by age and has enough activities for each group to provide parents with three hours of content each day. That means three hours each day of online reading and activity time, all themed around a special topic area for the day. Day one for first and second graders? Spiders. Get ready for some cute spider drawings for the fridge, folks!
The Brainly app aims to connect parents with other parents to help out their students, aka a virtual study group. That means you can crowdsource other families for help on concepts that you might not remember from grade and high school. For an extra fee, parents can get help with specific homework problems from experts (useful for brushing up on geometry if you don't remember the Pythagorean theorem).
BrainPop has videos and quizzes on just about every school subject a kid could need—and even has videos on how to explain the virus to children of different ages. They're offering free classes for schools that have shut down because of the coronavirus, so if your school is out for a while, you can fill out a form on the company's website to get access.
Parents can take advantage of a free month on teacher-made website Twinkl, where there are educational games, homework help, and even lesson plans on different subjects. There are also guides to break down exactly what kids learn each year for parents who need a refresher on what knowledge comes when. Users can also rate and review the games so you can pick and choose which ones to set your child up with to practice their multiplication tables.
- RELATED: The Best Educational Apps for Kids
Sumdog offers a selection of free games with the aim to make math fun for kids. You can also get a family subscription if the kids really take to it for bonus games, plus access to ways to chart kids' learning progress.
Parents, don’t forget to breathe and remember, you don’t have to do everything perfectly in order to keep your kid learning. You're never going to mimic the exact format of a classroom with the kiddos at home, so give yourself some room to experiment with what works for the whole family if you're all housebound. P.S. Don’t forget recess exists for when you need a break—send those kids out into the yard to run off some of that energy!
It might be time to skip the disinfectant wipes in favor of good old-fashioned soap and elbow grease.
By Kristi Pahr
February 21, 2020
Like most parents, you probably have a container of disinfectant wipes stowed in pretty much every room. Next to the changing table? Yep. Under the kitchen sink? Of course. In the bathroom? Duh. There's no denying the sheer utility of them—no messy spray, just wipe and go, confident that you've done your part to defeat the spread of germs in your home. Go you!
Unfortunately, a recent report from Consumer Reports shines a light on some of the less awesome parts of the ubiquitous cleaning supply. Namely, quaternary ammonium compounds (quats for short), which as you can probably guess from the name, aren't that great for you or your kids. They're actually registered as pesticides with the EPA. Some wipes also contain bleach or hydrogen peroxide, which are also ... not great. But it's the quats that we really need to be aware of. Compounds like bleach and peroxide are familiar enough that we know to be careful when using them on surfaces our kids might touch, but quats? Who's ever even heard of those?
Turns out, inhaling quats can trigger asthmatic episodes and a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that disinfectants that contained bleach or quats were responsible for over 30 percent of pesticide-related injuries like eye, skin, and respiratory complaints in school children.
In fact, kids are at higher risk than adults from these compounds. “Kids breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than an adult does. Their exposure will be greater in terms of inhalation than an adult exposure would be,” Jerome Paulson, M.D., a pediatrician and emeritus professor at George Washington University, told Consumer Reports.
The takeaway is this: Go easy on the disinfectants that kill bacteria and viruses. If you're not in a medical or child care facility, you probably don't need to disinfect many surfaces in your home. A good, old-fashioned cleaning can do the trick. (You can take a look at the Environmental Protection Agency's list of cleaners that aren't known to trigger respiratory difficulties.)
However, there are times when you might want to disinfect your home, like when someone has a stomach bug or the flu. Read labels and use products correctly—many need to maintain contact with the contaminated surface for several minutes before disinfection is considered complete.
And be mindful of using disinfectants anywhere near kids or older adults. Make sure there's adequate ventilation and keep little hands from contacting surfaces still wet with disinfectants—let them dry completely.
Maintaining a clean home is important, but disinfecting every surface every day is overkill. Save the money you spend on wipes and maybe treat yourself instead!
Wondering if your family's fur baby is susceptible to COVID-19? Here's what we know so far about how the coronavirus affects pets.
By Maressa Brown
March 16, 2020
As the number of people around the globe affected by the novel coronavirus and being diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to skyrocket, so too do our questions about the disease. Pet owners, in particular, are wondering if their family's fur babies are susceptible to the illness—especially because scientists say the virus initially jumped from animals to humans.
Here's what we know so far:
Can Pets Get COVID-19?
The Guardian reported that a Pomeranian in Hong Kong tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 last week. The dog's owner had tested positive for COVID-19, but the dog itself wasn't showing symptoms, according to authorities with the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. Test results suggested the dog, which has been quarantined since February 26, had "a low-level of infection, and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission."
In a press release, the department noted that they "will continue to closely monitor the dog which tested weakly positive for COVID-19 virus and repeat the test later. It will only be returned to its owner when the test result is negative."
Vanessa Barrs, who studies diseases in pets at City University of Hong Kong’s Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, explains to Parents.com, "The results of all of the tests show that the dog has a mild infection, acquired from its owner. The dog is not sick. The tests show that the virus is replicating inside of the dog's body, but it is not very good at it, and consequently, it is only shedding small amounts of virus in its nose and mouth."
To catch COVID-19, you have to be exposed to a certain dose of the virus, she notes. But the dog is shedding just a tiny amount of it, which means it is unlikely to be contagious. Barrs says that when a virus doesn't replicate very well in an animal—as is the case here—no onward transmission occurs.
J. Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College who studies zoonotic disease (disease spread between animals and people), tells Parents.com that researchers are hoping the novel coronavirus behaves like human flu in pets. "We can occasionally pass human flu to dogs," notes Weese. "They can get sick, but it's not their flu virus, so we assume they are 'dead-end' hosts, meaning they don’t pass it on any further. Hopefully, that’s the case with this virus in dogs. Cats are a bit more of a concern because they are probably a more amenable host, but we need to learn more about that."
Can Cats and Dogs Transmit Coronavirus to Humans?
Simple answer: No. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there is no reason to think that any animals, including pets in the U.S., might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, they haven't received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, noting that "at this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19."
Meanwhile, a report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) echoed that there is no evidence that dogs can spread the disease or that the disease can cause an animal to fall ill, but further studies may bring new findings. And the Society for the Protection of Animals in Hong Kong has clarified that being infected was not the same as being infectious.
In other words, pets can contract the virus, but there's no evidence that they can transmit it to humans.
Barrs told The South China Morning Post that dogs and cats also contracted low-level infections of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) during the 2003 outbreak. "Previous experience with SARS suggests that cats and dogs will not become sick or transmit the virus to humans," she said. "At that time, a small number of pets tested positive, but none became sick. Importantly, there was no evidence of viral transmission from pet dogs or cats to humans."
The bottom line: People don't get COVID-19 from pets, and pets don't get sick or pass the virus on, says Barrs. "Humans get COVID-19 from humans; they do not get it from dogs," she says.
Precautions for Pet Owners
"For safety, people should avoid close contact with their pets if they are feeling sick, in case they might transmit COVID-19 to their pet," advises Barrs. "If you think you might have COVID-19, don't kiss, cuddle, or sleep with your pet during the period of your illness. You can take your dog for a walk, as long as you are taking normal safety precautions around other people, such as social distancing."
The CDC echoes this guidance, encouraging anyone who is sick to limit contact with their pet. Ideally, another member of the household will step in, but if this is not possible, the CDC urges sick pet owners to wash their hands before and after they interact with pets, avoid sharing food, and wear a face mask.
For more information regarding pet health and the pandemic, check back with the World Organization for Animal Health and the CDC, which will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.