Medical Technology

Viral Medicine: Top Online Healthcare Moments of 2021

There are plenty of things to take into 2022 when it comes to social media trends: TikTok trends such as the “what I eat in a day” trend have been helpful for sharing healthy recipes, and doctors have been taking to the platform to help debunk wellness myths.

But there’s also a ton of stuff we’d rather leave behind (what’s all this about celebs not showering?). In no particular order, here are the top healthcare social media moments of 2021.

Milk Crate Challenge Injuries Skyrocket

This dangerous challenge first began appearing on TikTok and Twitter, quickly being dubbed “the milk crate challenge” before soaring into everyone’s “Trending” pages. Thousands of videos followed the trend of people trying it out for themselves, most resulting in painful falls and worse.

The challenge requires participants to stack milk crates into a pyramid-like shape, so they can attempt to walk up to the top and back down without falling. The milk crate pyramid doesn’t have a lot of structural integrity, especially given how feeble the milk crates are. As the participant reaches the top, it gets more and more precarious.

When it comes to falling from that height and potentially landing on a bunch of milk crates, doctors told NBC’s Today that the results could be disastrous: broken wrists, shoulder dislocations, ACL and meniscus tears, and spinal cord injuries were some of the listed possibilities.

So many people were injured in this challenge that TikTok removed many of the videos from their platforms, and subsequent “searches” for “Milk Crate Challenge” instead showed a prompt for learning about how to avoid dangerous challenges.

TikToks and Podcasters Tout Ivermectin

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people have been searching for ways to treat it. The release of the vaccine and various public health campaigns that urge the public to get vaccinated have been met with anti-vaccine and anti-mask movements. This is not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the early 19th century smallpox vaccine was met with anti-vaccine viewpoints, and the mask mandates of the 1918 Spanish flu were resisted similarly with anti-mask movements.

When it comes to COVID-19, however, people have taken more risks when it comes to treating and preventing the virus. The antiparasitic drug ivermectin was commercialized in the 1980s, and is used as a “de-wormer” for animals and, in safe doses, a treatment for head lice in humans. Australian researchers reported that ivermectin could inhibit coronavirus replication in large doses. However, a lack of safety data and clinical trials led to both the FDA and the drug’s manufacturer, Merck/MSD, discouraging self-medication using ivermectin.

This did not stop people around the world from buying the drug up in swaths, however. After popular podcasters and even some Republican lawmakers promoted use of the drug, demand went up. With human doses of ivermectin selling out, some ultimately resorted to pilfering animal clinics for livestock-grade ivermectin. In the spring and summer, reports came in of people requiring medical support and hospitalizations after taking doses of ivermectin meant for horses.

At the peak of the trend, a photo from a Las Vegas feed store went viral for the hand-written note attached to its ivermectin boxes. The note read: “Ivermectin will only be sold to horse owners. Must show pic of you and your horse.”

Aaron Rodgers Under Review by NFL for Vaccination Status

In November, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under the media microscope after a whirlwind of events regarding his vaccination status.

In August, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association came to an agreement on COVID-19 guidelines during the regular season. This involved testing players regularly. Unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated players were to wear masks at outdoor practices and walkthroughs, and would be restricted from travel. Among the discussion of these guidelines, Rodgers had been telling the media he was “immunized,” a word generally reserved for those who have been fully vaccinated.

However, after Rodgers tested positive in early November, the NFL stated they would review him and his team for possible protocol breaches — in this case, that Rodgers had lied about his vaccination status. According to Rodgers, he had undergone his own protocol and treatments to “stimulate [his] immune system” against COVID-19. Since he still falls into the unvaccinated category, the NFL rejected his petition.

As a result of the investigation, Wisconsin-based healthcare organization Prevea Health announced on November 6 that Rodgers would no longer be working with them, and Rodgers missed the November 7 Packers’ game.

Nicki Minaj’s Cousin’s Friend’s Vaccine “Reaction”

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the only celebrity with a vaccine-related scandal. This Nicki Minaj saga came out of left field, all started by the 2021 Met Gala. Trinidadian-born rapper and singer Minaj has been to Met Galas in the past, but people noticed she was skipping the 2021 event. As the event began, Minaj tweeted that her absence was because of the Met Gala’s request that attendees be fully vaccinated.

Her Tweet read: “If I get vaccinated, it won’t be for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research.” This sparked controversy among her fans and other Twitter users, who criticized independent “research” that doesn’t follow science and health guidelines. In reaction to the criticism, Minaj posted an anecdote about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad.

According to Minaj, this friend received the vaccine and became impotent after having a reaction in which his testicles swelled, resulting in the friend’s wedding being cancelled. Minaj encouraged her followers to pray on the decision they make regarding the vaccine — whatever that means.

Urologist Ranjith Ramasamy, MD, associate professor of urology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reacted to the viral tweet: “We have done studies here at the University of Miami showing that the COVID vaccine is safe for men, for fertility, for erectile function, and don’t get swollen testicles.”

Regardless, this led to the Twitter equivalent of an explosion, where Nicki Minaj and the woeful tale of her cousin’s friend trended for numerous days and became the basis for weeks’ worth of memes.

Celebrities’ Showering Habits

In the summer of 2021, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis appeared on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast, where the couple revealed that they didn’t believe in overbathing. There’s been debate since 2019 about overshowering and overbathing, the idea being that you can strip away too much of your body’s natural oils. While this may have some truth when it comes to hair care, it boils down to personal preference.

Kutcher and Kunis said on the podcast they wash the important bits every day, and that’s it, a tradition that continues with their children. Kutcher said: “If you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point.”

And so sparked the internet’s newest debate. Everyone began chiming in, giving their two cents on the “everyday” vs “minimal” bather situation. The podcast host, Shepard, and his wife Kristen Bell, admitted they only bathe their children when necessary (Bell says she waits for “the stink”), citing the California drought as the cause.

Other celebrities have come forward on the side of minimal bathing (because, sure), including Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Coco Austin, and Jake Gyllenhaal. In an interview, Gyllenhaal had said, “More and more I find bathing to be less necessary, at times.”

Since then, Gyllenhaal has clarified it was a sarcastic comment, but the hygiene debate rages on, with some doctors siding with celebs. Sarah Welsh, a British gynecologist, noted people don’t need to shower more than three times a week unless they are “visibly dirty or sweaty.”

Tessica Brown’s Gorilla Glue Mishap

One of the most notable incidents of 2021 was Tessica Brown’s Gorilla Glue incident. This thrilling saga was documented for weeks on social media, in which a woman attempted to use Gorilla Glue as a hair styling tool after mistaking it for an actual hair product called “gorilla snot gel.”

Brown originally uploaded her videos to TikTok, where she demonstrated how stuck her hair had become. It was a truly horrifying mistake, leading to a month of washes, emergency room trips, and videos documenting it all. Millions were following along by the time Los Angeles plastic surgeon Michael Obeng, MD, led a 4-hour long procedure to remove the glue from Brown’s head, a procedure he volunteered to do for free using a “non-toxic solution of medical grade adhesive remover, aloe vera, olive oil, and a bit of acetone.”

Dry Scooping TikTok Trend Proves Deadly

In June, the video social media platform TikTok popularized a method of taking workout supplements called “dry scooping.” Millions of likes went toward videos of the trend, where people would scoop dry pre-workout powder or protein powder and swallow it dry. Its intended use is to mix the powder with a few ounces of water.

Since its popularity, doctors have warned against replicating it. In an interview with Insider, medical student Nelson Chow, the author of a study presented at the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, said: “I think most people view ‘dry scooping’ as a silly, harmless trend, when in reality it is a dangerous practice.”

Since dry scooping isn’t how pre-workout is meant to be taken, the concentration puts people at risk for side effects or a caffeine overdose, with symptoms like heart palpitations, cramps, and vomiting.

TikTok user @brivtny even made a video in which she says that she tried the ‘dry scoop’ trend because she saw it on TikTok, and ended up in the hospital suffering from a heart attack, showing how the trend can turn deadly. The incident also exposed how potentially dangerous TikTok trends can be. Like usual, the answer to trying experimental home remedies or treatments is: Ask your doctor first.

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