Photos of two Chinese doctors who survived Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, are circulating widely on social media and news outlets around the world. The photos are accompanied by the claim that their skin turned black after they were infected with the novel coronavirus. The claim is true – but the strange change in color was only temporary.
The published images are authentic: the cardiologist Yi Fan and the urologist Hu Weifeng were contaminated with Covid-19 in January. Both of them became seriously ill until they both fell into comas and had to rely on life support machines to breathe.
On 18 April, Beijing TV, a local Chinese media broadcast a report featuring the two doctors [Watch from 09.00-12.00]. They were awake, but it seemed that their skin had darkened.
These photos found their way to WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels, Facebook, and Twitter, and soon a number of media started to claim that one of the effects of Covid-19 is a change in skin pigmentation.
Screenshots of the report were first shared on Weibo, China’s most popular social network. The screenshots had the caption: “Don’t be fooled into thinking these two black people are Africans”.
Why the rumor is misleading
Despite what these posts say, the phenomenon of getting darker skin after Covid-19 is not permanent. I found a new video of Dr. Yi Fan two days after the initial report was broadcast.
As we can see in the video, his skin color has gone back to what it used to be. So despite the claims, this medical condition is only temporary.
What causes a change in skin color?
Dr. An Chuc is a doctor based in Paris, an expert at the Paris Court of Appeal and also head of the medical-judicial unit of the Sud-Seine hospital group. She explains:
“What we can see in these images is compatible with what we observe during liver dysfunction in a patient. In reality, the skin isn’t turning black but dark yellow. This is what we call jaundice. It also affects the conjonctive [a membrane in the eye].
The change in color is a result of the liver being unable to process waste. Often this can be caused by contracting a viral disease, so in this case, it could have been caused by Covid-19. It often happens with viral hepatitis and can be caused by drug poisoning too. However, neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen this happen to that extent.”
Chinese medical teams also attributed the phenomenon to liver dysfunction.
According to local media, liver dysfunction could be a result of the drugs the patients were taking or because the virus temporarily increased the level of iron in their blood, leading to a temporary change in skin color.
First published here on France24.