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Incorrect information has become a problem in the current pandemic. Myths and misinformation are circulating about the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes. Concerned people ask, for example: Does alcoholic hand disinfection help with SARS-CoV-2? You can find the answers with just a few clicks on the Internet - scientifically founded as well as ragged. How should we deal with this information?


"We are not only fighting an epidemic, but also an infodemic," said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, according to the media during the Munich Security Conference in February (1). And that applies not only to targeted misinformation, but also to some extent for scientific studies.


Doubtful study

Incorrect assessments are also circulating, for example, about the effectiveness of alcoholic hand disinfection with the new coronavirus and other pathogens. To simply dismiss it as fake news or the result of sloppy editorial work would be the wrong way to deal with it. We should take misjudgments seriously and unmask them seriously. The scientist Alexandra Peters (University Hospitals of Geneva University Hospitals of Geneva and World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center) showed how it works: She dissected last November (before SARS-CoV-2) together with Didier Pittet a study published in the American Society for Microbiology's “mSphere” journal. This questioned the effectiveness of the established hand hygiene measures against infuenza viruses and therefore received attention in the public media (2).


Laborious work: stay serious!

The verdict of the two scientists on the study in question after a detailed analysis was devastating: Not only the conclusion is wrong, so Peters. The study shows serious flaws in the design of the experiments and on top of that has no clinical relevance. Overall, the authors showed that they were not familiar with clinical practice, current hand hygiene recommendations or current specialist literature. Peters and Pittet wrote all of this in a detailed letter to the editor, which was later also published in "mSphere" (3). They ended it with a clarification: Alcoholic hand disinfection is extremely effective against influenza viruses and is effective against non-spore-forming organisms, including non-enveloped viruses.


Distorting headline

The buck doesn't always lie with the authors of a study or their reviewers. This can be seen in a similar case, which also provoked objections from the scientists (4): In a letter to the editor to the renowned specialist magazine "Lancet", they and another colleague turned against a study published there on the alleged development of tolerance of Enterococcus faecium Against isopropanol: After analyzing the study, they primarily blamed the publisher's press department for spreading the false news (5). Because the press release on the study had opened with the following heading: "Hospital superbugs becoming resistant to alcohol disinfectants". A distorting statement, according to the WHO experts, if you consider that "alcoholic hand disinfectants are on the WHO list of essential drugs and save millions of lives worldwide".


What to do? - Systematically against fake news

Alexandra Peters is currently developing instructions for action together with other colleagues as part of the international CLEAN HOSPITALS initiative, which is also supported by HARTMANN. This enables scientists to analyze and categorize incorrect information. Then the tool should help to react to the fake news in a systematic way. A first version of the instruction has already been developed, as has a registration form. Both are now to be tested and validated.


Website against myths about SARS-CoV-2 / Covid-19

The WHO also offers targeted support in the current fight against false news. The World Health Organization clears up myths about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 on a website specially set up for this purpose. For each topic, graphics with questions and answers can be downloaded or shared with others.