MEDICAL MYTHS: Internet Hoaxes Frustrate Health Experts
Like a conspiracy from TV's popular "X-Files," medical myths -- from Costa Rican bananas carrying flesh-eating bacteria to the dreaded Klingerman Virus transmitted by mail in mysterious blue envelopes -- are spreading rapidly across the nation over the Internet, creating problems for health officials forced to debunk them. The CDC, for example, bombarded with frantic calls and emails from the public and the press, has issued written statements to refute the hoaxes. "We do what we can to set the record straight," CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said. In another instance, the Mayo Clinic's Women's HealthSource newsletter, after receiving massive inquiries, published a report in its May issue refuting a myth that women could get breast cancer from their deodorant. "This is just hooey," Managing Editor Michelle Felten said, adding, "Use your common sense. If it sounds too bizarre to be true, it probably is," . The myths, however, often achieve "an air of credibility" by combining real science, medical terms and authoritative sources like the CDC. According to doctors, medical myths tend to "grab the public's attention," while real warnings of real disease often go unheeded. Dr. Joseph Yao, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., commented, "[I]f we have flesh-eating bacteria ... death, heroic surgery, losing limbs -- these are always things that will catch people's eyes" (Allison, St. Petersburg Times, 5/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.