British Columbia

'Dangerous' COVID-19 claims and bogus cures continue to spread in B.C.

False information about the novel coronavirus is flourishing on social media, shared by everyone from well-meaning neighbours to the president of the United States.

Health Canada looking into unlicensed supplement marketed as 'next level of immune system boosters'

There is no known treatment or vaccine for the novel coronavirus. (NIAID-RML/The Associated Press/The Canadian Press)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the normal way of life in B.C., Maple Ridge Coun. Kiersten Duncan has received a steady stream of misleading, false and dangerous claims on her Facebook page.

Her constituents have sent her videos, audio recordings and memes, most of which contain a mix of true and false information about the novel coronavirus. That includes false claims that taking sips of warm water every 20 minutes will prevent infection and that high doses of zinc and vitamin C are effective treatments.

"They're sharing this information in the hope of helping other people and protecting them from the virus — not knowing that this information can actually be dangerous," Duncan told CBC.

"Even if it doesn't harm you, the problem is that people will believe in this and they stop washing their hands as frequently or touch their face more often or spend less time social distancing from others because they feel that they are safe or protected."

False information about the novel coronavirus is flourishing on social media, shared by everyone from Duncan's Maple Ridge neighbours to the president of the United States.

It's not all well-intentioned misunderstandings, either. Even though there are no proven treatments for the virus, there are also people and companies using the crisis to sell products and services they falsely claim can cure or prevent COVID-19.

As of March 31, Health Canada says it has received more than 60 complaints about misleading marketing related to the outbreak.

"These reports include a wide range of products ... including some masks, colloidal silver, some disinfectants, plant-based elixirs and formulas, hand sanitizers, Chaga mushroom blends, ultraviolet lamps, and oregano oil," the federal body said in a safety alert last week.

'Your greatest friend in the battle against SARS-CoV2'

The complaints include one filed this week about an unlicensed product known as Immun-Tamin, produced by a Vancouver company called Meon Supplements.

Until recently, the company's website stated that "Your greatest friend in the battle against SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is your own immune system," and called Immun-Tamin the "next level of immune system boosters."

A Health Canada spokesperson said the federal government hasn't received an application to license this supplement, and is looking into whether it violates Canadian law.

This image capture from the website for Meon Supplements states Immun-Tamin is the 'next level of immune system boosters.' The listing has since been removed. (meonsupplements.com)

The company's website was first registered on March 13, just two days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

Personal trainer and Meon Supplements founder Ondrej Leipert told CBC in an email that he has never claimed Immun-Tamin can cure COVID-19, and he plans to include a disclaimer on his website stating as much when he receives a licence to sell it.

"What I have been promoting is that a healthy immune system is an excellent defence against a wide range of health-related concerns," Leipert said.

He said he developed the supplement after he found himself spending more time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it "a product that I have been mentally building for many years."

After CBC reached out to Liepert for comment, the listing for Immun-Tamin was removed from the Meon Supplements website.

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists warned

It's not just businesses selling questionable products that are facing scrutiny during this public health emergency. Medical professionals have been cautioned as well about the consequences of pushing dubious remedies.

Last week, the B.C. colleges of pharmacists, nursing professionals and physicians and surgeons issued a joint statement warning professionals not to prescribe or dispense unproven treatments for COVID-19 outside of the context of a clinical trial.

That includes hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, medications that U.S. President Donald Trump has touted as "game changers" for COVID-19, despite a lack of solid evidence of their effectiveness.

The American president has promoted hydroxychloroquine as a 'game changer' against COVID-19, despite a lack of solid evidence. (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)

Some of these drugs were already in short supply, according to the colleges.

"Due to these recent COVID-19 claims involving Hydroxychloroquine in particular, there has been a growth in demand and even more acute shortages. This brings serious potential consequences for patients who need this medication for other conditions including Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis," the joint statement says.

The colleges of chiropractors and naturopathic physicians both issued warnings last month against misleading claims of "boosting immunity" or treating and preventing COVID-19. They face investigation and possible discipline if their marketing crosses the line.

As for the unsubstantiated information being shared by Kiersten Duncan's constituents, she'd just prefer that they practise a bit more critical thinking.

"People need to be so cautious about what information they're taking in and trusting. If you don't know if something is reputable and you don't know if you can trust it — don't. It's as simple as that," she said.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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