Amanda Ripley

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Urban Legends about Swine Flu

21st Dec 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

Thanks to a cocktail of fear, Internet technology and actual complexity, the misinformation spread this year faster than the actual virus. The end of the year (and hopefully the phase of the virus) seems like a good time for a wrap-up of rumors and all-out frauds about H1N1. Here’s a few that seem to still be in circulation:

**PEEL AN ONION!**

One email making the rounds claims that you can ward off the flu by placing onions around the house to absorb the badness. Apparently, this one dates back to the 1500s. People have long believed that peeled onions can rid the air of germs. People have long been wrong.

**GARGLE & SWAB!**

I actually got this one myself from a friend who had gotten it from her mother. It sounds just convincing enough to be believable. Apparently, this list of medical “tips” for avoiding H1N1 has been circulated under a variety of doctor’s names, none of whom appear to have written it. Some of the advice is sound (frequent hand washing). Others are reassuring, but not based in science. For example, the claim that even if H1N1 has infected your throat and nose, you still have 2-3 days to “prevent proliferation” by gargling with warm saltwater... I really wanted to believe that one, because it creates the illusion of control. But in a steel cage match, the influenza virus stomps saltwater. 

**JOIN THE VACCINE REGISTRY!**

The CDC is warning people about phishing scams disguised as H1N1 vaccination efforts. This email scam directs you to register your profile with the CDC. Should you click on the link, you could end up with malicious code invading your computer. (Speaking of viruses, my computer got one this year while I was searching for a place to get the H1N1 vaccine in DC. That is harsh… A virus directed at people trying to avoid a virus. Anyway, I got rid of it without much drama, but it was a good reminder never to click on weird-looking links.)

Please post a comment if you have any others to add!