False claim that 'paracetamol tablets contain the deadly Machupo virus' spreads online

·3 min read

Multiple Facebook posts in Thailand have shared a claim that some tablets of the painkiller paracetamol contain the Machupo virus -- which can cause a potentially life-threatening haemorrhagic fever. However, the claim is false; health experts dismissed it as "untrue" and explained that the virus could not survive in the tablet. The product in question, called P-500, is also not sold in Thailand.

"How could the Ministry of Public Health and the Food and Drug Administration let this happen?", reads a Thai-language Facebook post shared here on June 11, 2022.

"Channel 9 reported that paracetamol P-500 contains the Machupo virus, which is one of the deadliest viruses in the world and has been found in 11 provinces, including Bangkok. Please share this with your family."

Screenshot of the misleading post captured on June 16, 2022

The same claim was shared in other Thai-language Facebook posts here, here and here.

A similar claim was also shared in Malaysia here and Myanmar here.

However, experts told AFP that the claim is "untrue".

Machupo virus

The Machupo virus causes the Bolivian haemorrhagic fever that, according to the Pan-American Health Organization, has a mortality rate of between 5 and 30 percent.

Experts told AFP that it would be "impossible" for the paracetamol tablets to contain the virus.

"I can confirm this claim is false," said Alisara Sangviroon Sujarit, a lecturer in pharmaceutical sciences at Chulalongkorn University.

She told AFP: "In order to produce a tablet, the conditions must be very dry. The virus needs a humid environment and a low temperature to reproduce. So that's why the virus doesn't survive in this kind of environment.

"Also, the pharmaceutical company will need to do a quality check, which makes it impossible that a medication would contain any virus."

Thanaporn Chobsri, a pharmacist at Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), agreed and called the claim "fake news".

"There are strict regulations by the pharmaceutical manufacturer on how to produce medicine. It is totally impossible that there would be a virus in the paracetamol tablet," she told AFP.

P-500 unavailable in Thailand

According to Thailand's national drug information database, P-500 does not appear in the list of drugs sold in Thailand.

"Paracetamol under the name P-500 is not available in Thailand. It has never been registered in Thailand," Thanaporn said.

"There are many paracetamol brands in Thailand. They can be bought easily at the pharmacies. However, P-500 is not sold in Thailand," Alisara added.

Channel 9 report

Channel 9 refers to the Thai news agency MCOT.

Peerapol Anuttarasote, from the agency's fact-check centre Sure and Share, told AFP the channel had "never reported" that paracetamol P-500 contained the Machupo virus.

The agency also debunked the claim on June 14, in this report on Facebook titled: "Channel 9 reported that there is a virus contaminated in paracetamol? It's a hoax, don't share."

There have also been no cases of Machupo virus infections in Thailand, according to health officials.

Chawetsan Namwat, director of the Emergency Health and Disease Control Division of Thailand's Disease Control Department, told AFP: "There have been no reports about the purported virus spread in Thailand. This is obviously fake news."

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