Alberta talk radio host deletes tweet with false claim that there's a 100% cure for coronavirus

Alberta talk radio host Danielle Smith is being criticized for promoting an article claiming there is a 100 per cent cure for coronavirus on Twitter.

There is no known cure or targeted treatment for coronavirus and research is ongoing

Danielle Smith, a talk radio host and former MLA, has deleted a tweet claiming there is a cure for coronavirus but has left up other tweets referencing unproven medical research. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Alberta talk radio host and former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is being criticized for promoting an article claiming there is a 100 per cent cure for coronavirus on Twitter.

There is no known cure or targeted treatment for coronavirus and research is ongoing.

"BREAKING: New controlled clinical study conducted by doctors in France shows that hydroxychloroquine cures 100 per cent of coronavirus patients within six days of treatment," she wrote on Saturday, with a link to a blog that reports on technology startups. That tweet was deleted after it received a flood of criticism.

On Sunday, Smith apologized on Twitter for any undue anxiety and frustration caused by her deleted tweet — which she described as a retweet, which means sharing another user's tweet, not something she wrote — and said she would be more careful in the future.

"I deleted a retweet from yesterday that unintentionally created confusion and panic around a potential pharmaceutical solution for COVID-19. As the pandemic unfolds, I have many experts on the air to discuss potential treatment options," she said.

Radio host Danielle Smith has apologized and deleted a tweet that claimed a cure has been found for coronavirus but has left up other tweets making similar, unproven claims. (Danielle Smith/Twitter)

The blog post in Smith's tweet references a French study of 26 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Six patients dropped out of the non-randomized study — one died, one developed nausea, three were transferred to intensive care, and one left — and of those who remained, they were tested for COVID-19 under a more relaxed definition than that used by most health authorities.

If there really was something that worked and it was clear and the evidence supported it, I promise you we would know​​​​.- Timothy Caulfield

The study gained prominence after being touted by U.S. President Donald Trump, but was largely denounced by doctors including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying while potentially promising the science is largely anecdotal

Other doctors have cautioned that the combination of drugs could be harmful if taken without proper medical supervision, and The Washington Post reported those touting the unproven cure have caused shortages of the drugs which are needed to treat lupus and arthritis patients. 

Smith also shared a link to another blog, which primarily publishes anti-climate science writing, suggesting the same drugs and tonic water could be effective against coronavirus. She also tweeted that she would be doing her part in stopping COVID-19, as per President Trump's comments on anti-malarials, by drinking tonic water. One of those two tweets was deleted later Sunday, after this article was originally published. The other tweet has not been deleted.

Global News said in an emailed statement on Tuesday, two days after this article was published, that it took action in response to Smith's tweet.

"Global News took immediate action when the tweet from our talk radio personality came to our attention. We do not support posting information that does not come from credible sources and remain steadfast in our commitment to being a responsible, trustworthy source for all Canadians," an emailed statement read.

'We need to be really careful'

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who focuses on debunking pseudoscience and unproven health advice, said Smith's tweets are disappointing.

"It really misses all the really crucial context and with a situation like this where there's so much uncertainty, so much fear, I think we need to be really careful how we represent the science," he said.

Caulfield said it's important to think of the multiple consequences that can stem from misinformation, like shortages of resources and that if we are going to talk about possible cures, media personalities do so in a careful way.

"I do think that if the public is hungry for information about the ongoing research, let's talk about it … the science has to be good. It has to be proven safe. So I think we need to represent the science in as accurate a manner as possible. We can still make science stories engaging, but let's make sure they're accurate," he said. 

Caulfield reminded people that it's important to look to trusted sources like the World Health Organization for information.

"There are no magical preventative steps beyond what we already know, wash your hands, social distancing. Those are the things that are really going to have an impact," he said.

"If there really was something that worked and it was clear and the evidence supported it, I promise you we would know and we would hear about it from those respected voices."

Smith's coronavirus comments are not the first time the former politician has been criticized for making an unproven health claim on Twitter.

In 2012, the then Opposition leader tweeted that thorough cooking can kill E. coli bacteria, suggesting tainted meat could be fed to those in need, as the province was in the midst of a massive beef recall due to E. coli contamination.

Research has shown that some E. coli bacteria can survive past the recommended temperatures for cooking meat. 

There are more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada. For the latest updates on coronavirus, you can visit the Alberta Health Services website.


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.