In recent days, social media has been buzzing with narratives urging the use of masks due to the supposed spread of the “Amoeba” virus, which allegedly attacks the stomach. This virus is claimed to cause weakness and ultimately lead to diarrhea, even affecting heart function. One Facebook post by an account named “Budiyono” read, “My friends, I want to remind you that it seems like we need to start wearing masks again. This is serious; there are so many people affected by the ‘Amoeba’ virus that attacks the stomach. Hospitals are full; almost everyone has the same illness.” The post also included a picture of Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, along with his call to wear masks. As of Thursday, August 24, 2023, the post, which was shared on Tuesday, August 22, 2023, had garnered 8 likes and 1 comment. Although the response might not have been overwhelming, similar narratives have surfaced on other Facebook accounts. Claims of this nature undoubtedly have the potential to incite public panic and are misleading, warranting further investigation. So, what are the facts?
The research team at Tirto embarked on a journey to ascertain the existence of the “Amoeba virus” by entering the keywords into Google’s search engine. By cross-referencing the symptom characteristics mentioned in the post, it was concluded that the claim likely referred to amoebic dysentery. Quoting an article from Halodoc reviewed by Dr. Rizal Fadli, amoebic dysentery, or amebiasis, is a gastrointestinal disease that develops when a parasite known as Entamoeba histolytica enters the intestines. This parasite is transmitted through human feces. Amoebic dysentery generally doesn’t show symptoms. However, in some cases, symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, weight loss, and fever may appear 2 to 4 weeks after infection.
To address the claim regarding the mask-wearing recommendation due to an increase in amoebic dysentery cases, Tirto continued its search on Google with the keywords “amoebic dysentery.” Unfortunately, no official sources or reports from credible media outlets were found that reported an increase in amoebic dysentery cases. This claim has also been debunked by fact-checkers at Kompas.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Head of the Communication and Public Service Bureau at the Ministry of Health, stated that there have been no reports of an increase in amoebic dysentery cases leading to overcrowded hospitals. The call to wear masks due to the spread of amoebic dysentery is not sourced from the Ministry of Health and is indeed misinformation. “This is disinformation,” Nadia told Kompas on Wednesday, August 23, 2023.
Regarding the mask-wearing recommendation from Coordinating Minister Luhut, it was meant in the context of anticipating the effects of air pollution. This recommendation was specifically intended for residents of DKI Jakarta. As reported by CNN Indonesia, Luhut emphasized that residents should adhere to the government’s decisions regarding the impact of pollution. He stated that if not, everyone would suffer the consequences. “So now we have to mandate mask-wearing again, especially for our police friends; they must wear masks,” he said during an interview at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment office, as quoted by CNN Indonesia on Friday, August 18, 2023.
Recent air quality reports have indeed categorized Jakarta’s air as unhealthy. Tirto reported in early August that Jakarta briefly held the top position globally as the city with the worst air quality. Based on the fact-checking conducted, the narrative surrounding the mask-wearing recommendation due to an increase in amoebic dysentery cases has been proven false and misleading. The claim has been deemed disinformation by Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Head of the Communication and Public Service Bureau at the Ministry of Health. So far, there is no report of an increase in amoebic dysentery cases leading to overwhelmed hospitals. Concerning the mask-wearing recommendation from Coordinating Minister Luhut, its context pertains to mitigating the impact of air pollution and applies specifically to DKI Jakarta residents.