A tourist walks past the Coliseum in Rome in March 2020 (AFP / Alberto Pizzoli )

Social media posts falsely claim COVID-19 is a ‘bacterium’

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Social media posts shared thousands of times claim Italy discovered that COVID-19 is not a virus but rather a “bacterium.” But medical experts say the claim is false, and COVID-19 is actually the name of a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Italy has allegedly discovered covid is not a virus, but a bacterium. It clots the blood and reduces the oxygen saturation from dispersing throughout the body,” according to a June 4, 2020 post on Facebook.

Variations of the post were shared in Canada, in the United States, and on Twitter

Screenshot of a portion of a Facebook post taken on June 8, 2020

A similar claim circulated in Tagalog in the Philippines and was debunked by AFP Fact Check here.

"It's a hoax," a spokeswoman for the Italian health ministry told AFP.

The claims have also been widely disproven by international health experts. 

Scientists have found that COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus, not bacteria. The first major outbreak of the disease was in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. It has since spread worldwide. 

“By Jan 7, 2020, Chinese scientists had isolated a novel coronavirus (CoV) from patients in Wuhan,” according to this study published in The Lancet, one of the world’s top peer-reviewed scientific journals.

On February 11, 2020, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) named the new virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, or SARS-CoV-2, owing to its genetic relation to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.

As the disease rapidly spread across the world, scientists working independently isolated the new virus. National health agencies -- for instance in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada -- all state that the disease is viral.

Studies on COVID-19 patients in countries such as Italy, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Nepal, South Korea, and France also say the disease is not bacterial. 

The post also claims that “autopsies performed by the Italian pathologists has shown that it is not pneumonia but it is Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (Thrombosis).”

This “ought to be fought with antibiotics, antivirals, anti-inflammatories and anticoagulants,” the post says.

But Italy’s health ministry says here that “there is no specific treatment for the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Treatment remains mainly based on a symptomatic approach, providing supportive therapies (e.g. oxygen therapy, fluid management) to infected people, which can nevertheless be highly effective.

This is in line with official guidance from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 490 examples of false or misleading information about the novel coronavirus crisis. A complete list of our fact checks on the topic in English can be found here.