'We are more vulnerable and people want to make money out of that'

Marián García, with two of her books.
Marián García, with two of her books. / SUR
  • Influencer Boticaria García warns of scams about health, which have rocketed with the coronavirus, and wants the government to do more to combat fake news

She has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and uses that reach to pass on scientific messages. Marián García, better known as Boticaria García, has turned her status as an 'influencer' into a way of earning a living, by raising awareness about misinformation and what she calls "Dr Google": the fake news that spreads at dizzying speed, the risk of which has increased at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The illness, she says, makes us more vulnerable to speculation and lies.

You left pharmacy some years ago to dedicate yourself full-time to passing on scientific knowledge. Are you disappointed about the amount of fake news there has been during this pandemic?

At first there was a great deal, such as that coronavirus could be cured by steam or that you should put a pantyliner inside face masks, but it has reduced as time has passed. But I am very disappointed at the way companies and individuals have played on people's fear and tried to sell them products that are useless. In general we have little scientific culture and that makes it easy for us to fall for scams. Some don't cost much, like the antibacterial ballpoint pens, although this is a virus, not a bacteria, or the mattresses with silver nanoparticles, which are popular, but there are more serious cases. They are selling ozone generators and ultraviolet lamps to restaurants, hairdessers and other businesses which have been closed for two months and are now spending thousands of euros on machines which are not recommended by the World Health Organisation. It's frustrating. I have received unpleasant messages and companies have even threatened to take me to court for reporting these things, but if the health authorities don't take a stronger stance and explain them properly, then we are the only ones to do it.

But the rise in pseudoscience is nothing new. Before the pandemic, the anti-vaccine movement meant there were new cases of illnesses which had once disappeared.

In my book I talk about the myths relating to vaccines. These pseudotherapies mainly arise when illnesses occur which are difficult to cure, or which affect children, and difficult conditions, such as autism. The MMS (miracle mineral supplement) is one example. But coronavirus is a transversal illness; we are all potential victims and we are all scared. And pseudoscience finds its niche in that fear, which is why they can sell you anything if you don't have a bit of critical spirit or the authorities don't intervene. In that sense, I am absolutely interventionist. When action is taken against these charlatans, people react. But if nothing happens, they think "Well, it must be true."

The same thing happens in the field of nutrition, something else you cover in your books

Of course. what they call York ham, for example, doesn't exist. It is a perversion of the food industry, the industry that makes us believe it is better to eat quinoa than lentils. But now everything revolves around coronavirus. I have realised that we are more afraid and more vulnerable than I thought, but also that there are a lot of people who want to make money out of that. And the health authorities need to be more robust about it.

Have you been threatened?

A short while I ago I said FPP2 fabric doesn't exist, although some companies are selling fabric masks and saying they are FPP2. Many of those companies received bad reviews for their products and blamed my publications for it. You become a type of Pepito Grillo, but I think it is a good thing to awaken people's awareness and critical spirit.

Which mask is the most recommended?

Tell me who you are and I'll tell you what type of mask you need. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs recommends reserving the PPE (personal protection equipment) for health workers or people who are in contact with positive cases. Then there is the surgical mask, like the blue ones that dentists wear, which the Consumer guide says is recommended for people who are ill. Healthy people should use "hygienic" [fabric] masks, but of course some people are asymptomatic. The surgical ones cost 97 céntimos, last for four hours and have an impact on the environment. The virus is here to stay and we need to find sustainable solutions. If someone has no symptoms and can keep a safe distance from other people, the fabric masks can be a good option. If you're going to use public transport, you are ill or in contact with someone who has tested positive, you need a surgical mask.

Some people wear their mask on their head, hung round their neck or they put them down just anywhere...

There is still a lack of knowledge. Masks are designed to only be touched by the straps, not just because of the virus but due to possible micro-organisms that can remain on them and you end up rubbing those all over your face.

Is it better to use hydroalcoholic gel than soap?

No. The gel is recommended when you can't wash with soap and water. If your hands are dirty then the gel might not be effective: one thing is to clean, and another is to disinfect. You can't disinfect anything without cleaning it well first. Now sprays are fashionable, but the WHO has advised against them because you can inhale things that are damaging to the respiratory apparatus.

What is the best way to keep a house clean?

Use normal detergents unless there has been contagion, in which case you need bleach. Put two spoonfuls in a litre of cold water, because the chlorine can evaporate in hot water and will be less effective. But that is for surfaces which could be infected by coronavirus. You don't need to do anything special for normal cleaning.

Are you optimistic about the chances of a vaccine soon?

It is going to be a slow process, and until then we must maintain the hygiene and distancing measures. We can't relax, and think it's OK because there will be a vaccine soon. We must continue to be cautious.