Social media is well-known for causing problems, but the latest message to go viral across Twitter may even cost lives.

The posts in question contain false information over the effectiveness of hand sanitiser against coronavirus, which despite efforts by the site’s administrators, has already spread and seen by many thousands of followers.

The malicious rumours seem to have started from a user called @jasminjoestar who tweeted, “Hand sanitiser is antibacterial. The coronavirus is a virus. A bacteria and a virus is not the same. Wash your hands. Sanitizer will do nothing for the coronavirus. Sincerely a scientist who is tired of this sh*t.”

While the tweet is correct in repeating the importance of hand washing to limit the risk of infection, the claim that hand sanitiser does not work against the coronavirus (or any other virus) is very wrong.

As Raina MacIntyre, a Professor of Global Biosecurity at UNSW’s Kirby Institute, explains, “Viruses fall into two groups – those with an envelope and those without. The ones without are notoriously hard to kill. Fortunately, coronaviruses are enveloped, so will be killed by standard disinfection methods such as alcohol or bleach.”

@jasminjoestar’s profile does not specify which field of science they work in, neither does it substantiate their claim to be a scientist in any form.

UNSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, who is an expert in hand hygiene believes that the myth of hand sanitiser not being effective against viruses may be due to the mixed messages over hand gel ingredients.

“Simply, ethanol, 70% or more, is the active antiviral ingredient and isopropyl alcohol, 60% or more, is an effective antibacterial,” said McLaws. “So, effective alcohol-based hand rubs have a mix of both.”

To learn about other hand sanitiser hiccups read: The Five Biggest Mistakes People Make with Hand Sanitiser or Myth Busting: Hand Sanitiser NOT Explosive in Hot Cars

Later realising the mistake, @jasminjoestar later tweeted a clarification, stating, “Made tweet about washing hands is important. Said hand sanitizer isn’t going to do anything (not clear). Cleared it + replied under OP: 60%+ alcohol hand sanitizer is effective.”

Adding, “Super sorry for any mix up. Hand washing is #1. Hand Sanitizer with 60%+ alcohol is great too!”

The fake news tweet has also been deleted, but this was not before it had been retweeted more than 100,000 times, gaining almost 350,000 likes. It has also been recreated verbatim in countless posts on all social media platforms.

To help rectify the situation, @jasminjoestar has since made further efforts to stop the disinformation, tweeting that, “I’m not a biochemist, never said I was. I also did clarify it, as I said, in this post. I’ve also been retweeting informative tweets that help prevention and raising awareness, making sure the timeline has the right information.”

Fortunately, it seems that most people are wise enough to avoid near-anonymous advice on social media and are sticking to health authority advice.

Evidence of the growing popularity for keeping hands virus-free with sanitiser is clear, with a recent Globe Newswire report stated that, “According to reliable estimates, the global hand sanitizer market size is expected to reach a valuation of USD 17.2 billion by the year 2026. The growth is primarily attributed to rising prevalence of COVID-19, supportive regulations which promote the use of the product, and increasing awareness pertaining to personal hygiene.”

To help keep you and your family safe from coronavirus, read: What Does a Hand Sanitiser Need to Beat Coronavirus?

Photo credit: Ri Butov from Pixabay, soumen82hazra from Pixabay, Twitter, & mjbihn from Pixabay