Companies with experience in the “at-home” testing market began announcing in mid-March that they would be offering direct-to-consumer test kits for Covid-19.
With panic running high and tests at hospitals and doctors’ offices hard to come by, the appeal was obvious.
The kits were touted as a way for consumers to manage this difficult situation themselves: there would be no struggle to see the doctor, or calls to the health department, or waiting in line at a drive-thru test site.
Instead, consumers could collect their own samples, by either swabbing the throat or cheek or spitting into a cup. The samples would then be mailed back to the companies’ partner laboratories, which would test for coronavirus. Prices ranged from $135 to $181.Advertisement
But criticism was swift. Questions were asked about whether at-home tests could be skimming the resources needed for lab-based tests. There was also the possibility of people collecting their samples incorrectly and questions about follow-up care.
Not to mention the risk of inaccurate results.
The Food and Drug Administration responded with a 20 March press release, which stated that the FDA had not authorized any test “that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home for Covid-19”.
At least four companies, Nurx, EverlyWell, Forward and Carbon Health, have since said they halted sales – though two of the companies still had information about the tests on their websites as of Monday afternoon.
While these companies are legitimate and have a track record for at-home testing and providing medical care, there may be others out there hawking products that do not.
“Some are coming from reputable places and some are not, and that’s hard for the average consumer to tell,” said Eric Topol, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
For example, a number of questionable internet reports related to coronavirus tests, vaccines and “miracle” cures are already circulating on social media.
And for scared consumers, it may be difficult to tell the difference. “There’s a lot of bunk, junk and crank stuff out there,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University school of medicine in New York City.
The FDA said, for instance, in its 20 March release that it “is beginning to see unauthorized fraudulent test kits that are being marketed to test for Covid-19 in the home”.
One key sign that an at-home kit is a sham is that it will offer consumers an almost immediate test result. “That would not be possible,” said Topol.
Websites touting miracle cures and preventives – herbs, teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver – are prevalent.
QAnon conspiracy theorists on YouTube and Twitter have irresponsibly told viewers to buy and drink “Miracle Mineral Solution”, an industrial bleach product, to ward off coronavirus. Facebook and Instagram posts claim that marijuana, cocaine or vitamin C can kill or prevent the coronavirus. Salespeople have been offering fake N95 masks.
To be clear, the FDA said in 1999 that any products containing colloidal silver are not “safe or effective”, and the National Institutes of Health has said there are no known benefits to ingesting silver supplements and it can cause serious side-effects. The FDA also warned consumers in 2019 not to buy or ingest “Miracle Mineral Solution” because it can cause severe health effects.
The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission jointly issued warning letters on 9 March to seven companies for selling “products that fraudulently claim to prevent, treat or cure Covid-19”.
One of the warning letters was issued to Jim Bakker, a prominent televangelist who allowed a guest to promote colloidal silver as a cure for Covid-19, and then sold it during a 12 February broadcast of The Jim Bakker Show. The state of Missouri has since filed a lawsuit against Bakker for “falsely promising to consumers that Silver Solution can cure, eliminate, kill or deactivate coronavirus”.
The conservative radio host Alex Jones received a cease-and-desist letter on 12 March from the New York attorney general’s office for selling products on his website that contain colloidal silver and claim to treat or cure coronavirus infections.
“There is nothing homeopathic or nutritional that can help you with the virus,” said Caplan. “The idea that people are floating some kind of diagnostic solution or magic or therapy on the internet, it’s all total crap.”
There have also been reports of consumers buying up a fish tank cleaner on eBay that has the same active ingredient as the antimalarial drug chloroquine, which President Donald Trump touted as a possible treatment for Covid-19. An Arizona man recently died after ingesting the fish tank additive, thinking that it would prevent coronavirus.
In an update issued on 24 March, the FDA said it was aware of people buying the fish tank cleaning product and advised consumers: “Don’t take any form of chloroquine unless it has been prescribed for you by your health care provider and obtained from legitimate sources.”
On 20 March, the US Department of Justice announced that the attorney general, William Barr, had asked all US attorneys “to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus-related fraud schemes”.
The DoJ detailed its first enforcement action on 22 March for a Covid-19 fraud against one website that claimed to be selling coronavirus vaccine kits from the World Health Organization.
Despite all the false promises about these products, it’s important for consumers to remember that there is no FDA-approved treatment or vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
And the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to practice physical distancing and wash your hands, public health experts say.
Regaining a sense of control is a motivator
Consumers may be motivated to buy these types of items because they are trying to regain control in an uncertain situation, explained April Thames, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“People have this heightened anxiety and they are willing to try anything out there that’s a possible treatment or cure,” said Thames. It creates an opening for scam artists “to market products that sound like they are effective.
But Caplan’s ultimate advice to consumers who see coronavirus-related products on the internet? “Anything online, ignore it.”
Coronavirus: What Happens When You Get Infected?
How Does Coronavirus Attack Your Body?
A virus infects your body by entering healthy cells. There, the invader makes copies of itself and multiplies throughout your body.
The new coronavirus latches its spiky surface proteins to receptors on healthy cells, especially those in your lungs.
Specifically, the viral proteins bust into cells through ACE2 receptors. Once inside, the coronavirus hijacks healthy cells and takes command. Eventually, it kills some of the healthy cells.
How Does Coronavirus Move Through Your Body?
COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, starts with droplets from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or breath. They could be in the air or on a surface that you touch before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. That gives the virus a passage to the mucous membranes in your throat. Within 2 to 14 days, your immune system may respond with symptoms including:CONTINUE READING BELOW
- A cough
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Chills, sometimes with shaking
- Body aches
- A sore throat
- Loss of taste
- Loss of smell
The virus moves down your respiratory tract. That’s the airway that includes your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. Your lower airways have more ACE2 receptors than the rest of your respiratory tract. So COVID-19 is more likely to go deeper than viruses like the common cold.
Your lungs might become inflamed, making it tough for you to breathe. This can lead to pneumonia, an infection of the tiny air sacs (called alveoli) inside your lungs where your blood exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide.
If your doctor does a CT scan of your chest, they’ll probably see shadows or patchy areas called “ground-glass opacity.”
For most people, the symptoms end with a cough and a fever. More than 8 in 10 cases are mild. But for some, the infection gets more severe. About 5 to 8 days after symptoms begin, they have shortness of breath (known as dyspnea). Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) begins a few days later.
ARDS can cause rapid breathing, a fast heart rate, dizziness, and sweating. It damages the tissues and blood vessels in your alveoli, causing debris to collect inside them. This makes it harder or even impossible for you to breathe.
Many people who get ARDS need help breathing from a machine called a ventilator.
As fluid collects in your lungs, they carry less oxygen to your blood. That means your blood may not supply your organs with enough oxygen to survive. This can cause your kidneys, lungs, and liver to shut down and stop working.
Not everyone who has COVID-19 has these serious complications. And not everyone needs medical care. But if your symptoms include trouble breathing, get help right away.NEWSLETTERStay Up-to-Date on COVID-19
What Else Does COVID-19 Do to Your Body?
Some people also have symptoms including:
- Liver problems or damage
- Heart problems
- Kidney damage
- Dangerous blood clots, including in their legs, lungs, and arteries. Some clots may cause a stroke.
Researchers are also looking into a few reports of skin rashes, including some reddish-purple spots on fingers or toes.
A few children and teens have been admitted to the hospital with an inflammatory syndrome that may be linked to the new coronavirus. Symptoms include a fever, rash, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart problems. The syndrome, now being referred to as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C is similar to toxic shock or to Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that causes inflammation in blood vessels. We’re still learning about these cases.
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Coronavirus: Adults should take vitamin D, researchers say
The Government should immediately change recommendations for vitamin D supplements as a matter of urgency by urging all adults to take them during the coronavirus pandemic, according to scientists at Trinity College Dublin.
This follows evidence highlighting the association between vitamin D levels and mortality from Covid-19 produced by Dr Eamon Laird and Prof Rose Anne Kenny, who lead the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing.
They analysed European adult population studies completed since 1999 which measured vitamin D, and compared vitamin D and death rates from Covid-19.
The pivotal role of vitamin D in fighting viral infections is known but it can also “support the immune system through a number of immune pathways” involved in fighting Covid-19, they conclude in a study published in the Irish Medical Journal.
The correlation is so strong taking vitamin D should be advised immediately, Prof Kenny said. This was because vitamin D deficiency was common among those at risk of Covid-19 (particularly older people); there was no toxic risk from taking it at the recommended dosage level, and growing evidence of benefits.
Last week, scientists at Northwestern University in the US found those with severe vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to experience Covid-19 complications.
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