Facts Matter: There hasn't been a disease in each election year

Updated 3/14/2020 7:32 PM

A meme circulating on social media claiming every election year has coincided with a disease is "inaccurate and imprecise," according to Science Feedback, a website that fact-checks scientific claims.

The meme, according to Snopes.com, lists diseases such as SARS, swine flu and ebola alongside years in which there were elections.


Since congressional elections occur every two years and special elections to fill vacancies can happen any year, every year is potentially an election year, Science Feedback said, also pointing out the list of diseases is incorrect.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak ran from November 2002 to July 2003. There was a recurrence in 2004, the year listed on the social media post, but only in China.

There are various strains of bird flu but H5N1, known for its high mortality rate to humans, happened in 1997. There was not an outbreak in 2008, as the online post claimed.

A swine flu pandemic was declared in June 2009 after first being detected in April of that year. By August 2010, the date listed, it had ended.

Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, was indeed first reported in 2012 but most cases occurred in 2014. Ebola, listed for 2014 and 2018, first infected humans in 1976.

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The first known Zika outbreak was in 1952. A 2015 outbreak in Brazil spread to North America and the World Health Organization declared the disease a health emergency from February to November of 2016.

A novel coronavirus, the virus causing COVID-19, was first reported in 2019, as the name suggests, not in 2020.

The meme with the false info has racked up 3 million views on Facebook, Science Feedback said.

Holding a deep breath is not a test for coronavirus

The claim that holding your breath for 10 seconds without discomfort is a self test for coronavirus doesn't hold air, according to Snopes.com.

Among the false COVID-19 information making the rounds on social media is a self test, provided by unnamed Taiwanese experts, Snopes said. The information claims people with coronavirus will not show any symptoms but their lungs will be infected with fibrosis. The test includes holding a deep breath for more than 10 seconds. If that can be done without coughing, discomfort, stiffness or tightness, there is no fibrosis in the lungs. The experts suggest doing this every morning in an area with clean air.

This claim is "flawed for several reasons," Snopes said.

Holding your breath for 10 seconds, although harder with lung disease, isn't used as a test for fibrosis and is not an indication of clean lungs or the lack of an infection.


And fibrosis in the lungs, which can inhibit breathing, has not been listed by any major health organization as a symptom of coronavirus.

Bloomberg's spending wouldn't make every American a millionaire

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently dropped out of the Democratic presidential race after spending nearly $500 million on TV, radio, digital and direct mail advertising.

Amid criticism about how much he spent, a few journalists falsely claimed Bloomberg could have given each American $1 million and spent the same amount of money, <URL destination="https://apnews.com/048bf7c599c644ef38837cc9b52b226a">according to The Associated Press.

</URL>Simple math shows Bloomberg could give 500 people $1 million each before spending the same total. The 327 million America citizens would actually receive about $1.53 each if the money was divided up equally.

A Twitter post by freelance journalist Mekita Rivas said, "Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. population is 327 million. He could have given each American $1 million and still have money left over. I feel like a $1 million check would be life-changing for most people. Yet he wasted it all on ads and STILL LOST."

New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay, while speaking with host Brian Williams on MSNBC, pointed to Rivas' tweet and said, "It's true, it's disturbing. It does suggest what we're talking about here, which is there is too much money in politics."

Everyone involved later acknowledged the mistake, the AP said.

Rivas wrote, "I know, I'm bad at math," on her Twitter bio. Gay said she would be buying a calculator. And Williams' show said they relied on bad math, corrected it after a commercial break and removed that segment from rebroadcasts of the program.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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