10 Urban Legends About Health and Safety That Caused Real Harm
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 13 August 2017.
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 13 August 2017.
We laugh at urban myths and legends, often to joke about how stupid or ridiculous people are. It can be amusing to think about what insane things people can be led to believe, but sometimes it really isn’t a joke, and it isn’t funny at all. Many urban legends or conspiracies that are spread around cause people to try to self treat problems for which they should really see a doctor, distrust medicine in general, or take part in dangerous activities or practices that they have been led to believe are safe. It is important to always research what you are being told, especially when it comes to matters of health or safety, and inform others you know when they believe something false that could put them in a dangerous situation or endanger their health.
10. A Conspiracy Theory About AIDS Has Helped It Spread Further
For many years a conspiracy theory has proliferated among the black community: that the government actually created HIV and AIDS, and distributed it among those in the inner city to kill people of color. President Obama, then a Senator, actually went on television telling of the theories of his pastor Jeremiah Wright, who believed in such nonsense. The belief is so widespread that many black people today, and plenty of non-black people as well, believe this theory.
Of course, we know that AIDS was not a man made creation, but this hasn’t stopped the belief from causing great harm. The best way to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS is to catch it early and give people the right drugs for treatment and control of the condition, and for them to be informed of what they have. However, people are unlikely to go get treatment if they believe that the government caused it on purpose and wants them to suffer and die. This means people distrust the government and don’t go get checked when they suspect they may have it, causing it to spread further and further still. The best way to counter this kind of theory is with education - the government did not create such a deadly disease, and treatment options today are actually very good, especially if it is caught early.
9. The Myth About “Safety Belts Costing More Lives Than They Save”
Some people will go on about how they heard some cop somewhere claim that seat belts actually cost more lives than they save. Their theory generally goes that the seat belt could trap you in the car when it is on fire or something similar, with no way for you to get out. Experts in law enforcement who tend to deal with a lot of accidents have pointed out, though, that while you could have a rare situation where a seat belt makes it harder for someone to get out, that unconscious people don’t even have a chance to try, and people without seat belts invariably end up unconscious after a major accident. One policeman who dealt with a lot of accidents was once quoted as saying that he “never unbuckled a dead man.”
In other words, while someone may be able to find a strange, occasional case where a seatbelt caused someone to die in an accident, the vast majority of the time, the seat belt will greatly decrease your risk of fatalities. Sadly, many people get thrown from their vehicles and die in accidents because they believed this ludicrous rumor, and wanted to ensure they didn’t get trapped in their car. The issue is that the whole point of a seatbelt is basically to trap you in your car in the event of an accident, so you don’t get thrown clear of the vehicle.
8. People Held Chickenpox Parties Because They Thought It Had Immunization Benefits
Not that long ago, it was a much more commonly held belief among many people that if a child became infected with chicken pox as a child, it was now impossible for them to get shingles - a version of the disease that can come back as an adult and be much more painful and often life threatening. It would also be impossible for chicken pox to return, as it can only affect you once, ever. To this end, when it was found out that a nearby child had chicken pox, people would have parties where they made sure their kids got into contact with the infected child, so that they could quickly get their kids the pox and get it over with.
Unfortunately, this was founded on complete bunk. Chicken pox actually comes from a similar family of disease as herpes, and as you know, herpes keeps coming back. What this actually means is that giving a kid chicken pox when they are young, instead of immunizing them against shingles later in life, actually increases the chances of it happening to them. The good news is that with modern media, this myth has been busted more and more commonly, and the amount of people setting up these insane parties has dwindled to a much smaller number.
7. Drinking Alcohol To Cure A Hangover Is Only Going To Worsen Your Overall Health
One of the most common ideas in the culture of drinking booze, is that if you get a hangover, you can speed up your recovery process by adding a bit more booze to your morning the next day. Now, this is so common in popular culture and in real life that there are common drinks designed pretty much just for this “hair of the dog” cure. The most popular, of course, are the many variations of the Bloody Mary, which is basically a mix of some form of tomato juice, vodka, various spices, and a bunch of unnecessary garnishes that will probably be discarded, but make the drinker look temporarily like a healthy person who likes to enjoy their vegetables - after a night of destroying one’s liver, this is probably psychologically comforting.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing to the idea that drinking will make your hangover go away quicker. The reason you sometimes feel better by drinking is because drinking alcohol dulls your senses in general, but this isn’t actually making you feel properly better or ending your hangover. At some point your body still has to finish processing out the toxins to get you better, and by using the hair of the dog method, you are actually just adding more toxins for your body to process.
6. Vaccine Deniers Really Are Bringing Back Deadly Diseases And We Should Be Worried
The MMR vaccine, which staves off measles, mumps, and rubella, and other vaccines, have been the source of controversy for a long time. However, in more modern times, a man named Andrew Wakefield is the biggest source of ill for the world of medicine in terms of vaccines. He published a paper back in the ’90s that was quickly discredited for awful methodologies and he had his medical license taken away. Unfortunately since then he has still given lectures and talks and done his best to stoke fear of vaccines all over the world.
In the United States, Measles has started to crop up seriously in Minnesota - an area Wakefield and his people have been laying their propaganda heavily. To make matters worse, we are seeing outbreaks of diseases we once thought we had beat all over the country, and they are all linked to vaccine deniers. These people spread ridiculous urban myths, some of which have been around since before Wakefield, that vaccines cause all kinds of crippling conditions for young children, including various forms of autism. Of course this has been entirely disproven, but many people still cling to the belief. Unfortunately many people find it easier to accept this idea that their child’s health problems are caused by vaccines, because life is easier when you have an obvious villain to blame for your problems, instead of trying to accept the sad truth that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
5. The Five Second Rule Has Probably Given Countless People Food Poisoning
Probably the most common health myth is the “five second rule.” Nearly everyone believes it, or some variation of it - some people believe in a one second or even ten second rule. However, while many people will chuckle about it as they say it, as if they sort of know it’s silly, many of us have seen people pick stuff up off the floor and then eat it citing the famous ‘rule’. The truth is that this rule did not come from anywhere official, and is purely an urban myth concocted perhaps by mothers with very clean floors who were trying not to waste food and convince their children it was alright.
However, the truth is that most floors, even those that look relatively clean, have a lot of germs and other bacteria. And the problem with this myth is that it really only takes a moment of exposure for those germs and bacteria to stick to whatever food item you dropped on the floor. It really doesn’t matter how long; if it touched the floor and you don’t know how clean it is, it would be smarter to simply throw the food away.
4. “Cough CPR” Has Possibly Caused The Deaths Of Heart Attack Sufferers
Cough CPR is a legend that has been spread around by pseudo-medical experts, which are a dime a dozen these days. Most of them have some random website that looks sort of official, and will talk about how evil big pharma is, while trying to sell you overpriced products that are basically placebo. This strange idea spread by the misinformed is very dangerous and could potentially be causing people who are suffering from a heart attack to think they can handle things on their own and not take the proper steps. The idea given by the people spreading this idea is that if the heartbeat is out of rhythm, you can cough forcefully to get it back to beating properly. The truth is that if you think you are having a heart attack, experts recommend taking some Advil or equivalent with water, and calling 911.
Now, this doesn’t mean that cough CPR is a completely useless idea; it actually does come from somewhere legitimate. It has just been horrifically misinterpreted by urban myth and medical fraudsters. Experts have said that theoretically a person who is experiencing certain issues where the heart is out of rhythm could keep themselves conscious for a short time by coughing, but it wouldn’t be much help and they would quickly pass out. However, after the emergency and the patient is stabilized for the most part, there are certain situations with cough CPR where, when the patient is guided by a medical expert telling them how and when to cough, it can help stabilize them further.
Remember though, cough CPR is only done guided by medical experts after the initial emergency and only in some situations. If you think you are having a heart attack, get 911 on the line and if you can, get the equivalent of some Advil. If there is anyone nearby, signal to them that you need help so they can assist you however they can. Do not just cough and try to get yourself through the emergency on your own.
3. Doctors Very Rarely Use The Defibrillator, And Never When A Patient Is Flatlining
This one may not cause a lot of harm, as most actual medical professionals know better than to think that what is on TV is real. However, some lay people are trained to be first aid, CPR, and AED (defibrillator) certified, and could potentially misuse this equipment. After all, first aid training is relatively short and doesn’t have a lot of time to make an impression, but TV is constantly around us and it is difficult to escape the thrall of popular media and culture. And the issue here is that popular media has given us a completely incorrect idea of how defibrillator’s work.
Most people have this romantic notion in their head of a patient flatlining - all other hope is lost. There is only one, last, desperate option to bring the hero back to life. The doctor - or perhaps a random citizen who knows what they are doing - will grab some nearby defibrillator paddles, yell “CLEAR!” and then slam them down on the afflicted person’s chest like there is no tomorrow. After a few slams, a few more “CLEARS!” and often a couple shouts of “Don’t you die on me!” the person will gasp and the heart monitor will start pulsing in a nice steady rhythm again - the dead has been brought back to life.
Of course, anyone who knows how absurd this is, especially those who work in the medical field, are likely rolling their eyes to the back of their skulls every time they see a scene like this in a movie or television program. A defibrillator is actually used to shock a person’s heart rhythm back to where they are supposed to be when it is irregular, but it will do absolutely nothing for someone who is already flatlining and has no pulse - if a person is flatlining and the doctors believe they still have a chance they would continue to perform CPR and possibly use epinephrine; they would not shock them with the paddles.
2. Urban Legends About Organ Harvesting And Vaccinations Have Led To Killings Of Medical Volunteers
In some parts of the world, medical myths fly around even thicker and faster than they do in places like the United States or the UK. This is mainly because in many countries, they don’t have as much access to information, or as much education, so it is easier for paranoia and fear to take hold. In Pakistan a few years back, over a dozen Western medical volunteers were killed in about a year, and authorities believe it was because people were paranoid that they were actually trying to do harm under the guise of medicine. In Brazil, many people in the poorer slums will not go to the hospitals because they fear their organs will be stolen there, and fear of organ theft abounds in many third world countries.
Foreign medical volunteers will even become capable of speaking the local languages, and will act kind, but are often distrusted anyway. They will have tools the locals are not used to, and methods that they may not have seen before. Constant rumors make things worse and create further resistance and put the lives of those volunteering medical services at great risk. Unfortunately, trust in Western doctors was set back not long ago when it was discovered that the CIA had someone offering to give Hepatitis B vaccinations in Pakistan, in order to find DNA to locate and take out Bin Laden. While the vaccines were not harmful, they were also not proper medical treatment, and people are understandably now more leery of Western doctors coming to help them out.
1. The Rumor That Gum Stays In Your Digestive Tract For Years Has Caused A LOT Of Trash
To end on a lighter note, one of the most prolific urban legends you will ever hear is that if you swallow your chewing gum, it will stay in your digestive tract for seven years - and in some versions of the legend, even longer. For this reason, people tend to spit out their gum and just stick it anywhere - a wall, under a chair, under a table, the ground, the floor, a corner it will never come out of without industrial solvent, etc. This has led to a horrible mass of filthy, saliva encrusted, germ laden gum being stuck on surfaces all over the world, and providing a constant nightmare to cleaning people.
And it never needed to be this way in the first place. People can swallow their gum safely and without any real worry. While a small child could potentially choke on a larger piece, that is really just an argument for why a small child really shouldn’t be chewing gum in the first place. For anyone else, it doesn’t stay in your digestive tract, but actually just passes right through it when you excrete - this is what your body tends to do with anything it can’t properly digest. Now, if you ate a lot of gum over a short period of time you could get a little constipated, but that is really the worst you are going to go through. If you cannot find anywhere polite and proper to dispose of your gum, it won’t hurt you to swallow it once in a while and keep the world a little bit cleaner.
Top image: Vaccine. Credit: John Keith/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]