This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Electronic Highways

Published: March 3, 2005

Medical hoaxes, rumors and other misconceptions

You open up your email account and there they sit, amidst all the real messages and the obvious spam: well-meaning messages from friends and relatives who have heard something horrifying and want to warn you. If it's not about terrible infections spread in bizarre ways, it's about travelers who are drugged and have both of their kidneys removed. Sometimes you may spot these as medical hoaxes and urban legends right away. Other times, these emails contain what appear to be very plausible stories. How do you tell if the content is really legitimate?

Most of us don't know enough about medicine to determine for certain how true or false these stories are. Fortunately, there are a number of sources out there that can help you debunk these. (, an authoritative source on urban legends, is a good place to start. It has a category strictly for medicine ( Another good site is which maintains a similar page (

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the chief government agency that deals with the spread of disease, and has a page ( just for hoaxes and rumors. Another government source is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); its Web page on Diet, Health & Fitness ( contains some information on health scams, as well as some material on such issues as weight-loss programs, generic drugs, impotence treatment and so on. MedlinePlus, another good site designed for the layperson, has a whole page devoted to issues of health fraud (

There also are those pesky medical myths that we more or less accept as fact. Now that we're in the thick of cold and flu season, it's hard to go a day without hearing one: Vitamin C will ward off a cold. Feed a cold; starve a fever. There are many others on all sorts of topics. How do you know what's true and what's a myth? WebMD has a good column ( that separates fact from fiction. Another place to explore is The New York Times' column "Really" (, which poses and then answers a health-related question each week. Lastly, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has a handy page dealing with medical myths (

Whether you're merely curious or truly concerned, these sources can provide you with the informed answer.

—Michelle L. Zafron, University Libraries