Imagine waking up to a breaking news broadcast that shows Donald Trump speaking from the Oval Office and declaring war on North Korea1. Then imagine changing the channel to see a startled-looking Trump quickly going on air to say the war declaration was a hoax. How would you find the truth?
Turn on the television right now, and you’re likely to come away thinking that we are in the midst of a public health crisis never seen before. The flu is, indeed, pretty bad this year. If Facebook is any indication, this year’s flu is a particularly nasty strain, one that takes a long time to go away.
Flu season never ceases to open up a Pandora’s box of conspiracy theories, though. Chief among them is an unshakable belief that the flu shot will, in fact, cause you to get the flu.
This week the New York Times sent a brave reporter into a hospital tent set up outside an out-of-space emergency ward in Pennsylvania. There, he interviewed patients suffering from the flu, including one woman, who delivered this timely summation:
Dr. Greenberg […] asked if she got flu shots. “I hear the shot gives you flu,” said Ms. Rogers. “I heard you can get Alzheimer’s from it — that there’s mercury in it, and it goes to your brain.”
Mr. Moyer interrupted to ask Dr. Greenberg what caused flu, and Ms. Rogers interjected: “I heard it’s a government plot for population control.”
Dr. Greenberg, who has already heard her patient turn down a prescription for Tamiflu (“No, I heard it causes hallucinations,” she said. “I heard about a lady whose daughter got Tamiflu and tried to kill her.”) then asks gently where on earth she was getting this information.
“Social media” she replied.