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Fact Check-COVID-19 test swabs cannot touch the brain or bruise the amygdala to make people submissive

COVID-19 test swabs are not used to replicate a technique performed on slaves in ancient Egypt to make people submissive.

The false claim has been shared via social media posts (here , here) that compare an image of a woman receiving a nasal swab during a COVID-19 test, to an ancient Egyptian artwork that depicts a person holding a rod-like instrument to man’s face.

“In ancient Egypt, they bruised the amygdala in order to make slaves more submissive and compliant”, the posts claim.

This is misleading on several levels. Firstly, the artwork does not show the amygdala, the portion of the brain that handles fear, panic and other strong emotions, being bruised.

It comes from a wall painting on the Theban tomb of Ipi, which depicts an ophthalmologist conducting an eye procedure on a craftsman (here , here ).

Clearer versions of the image show that the rod is in contact with the man’s eye.

Further to this, it is not anatomically possible for COVID-19 tests to be used in such a way, since the nasopharyngeal swabs that are used cannot reach the brain.

“COVID tests cannot damage the amygdala,” Simon Schultz, professor of neurotechnology at Imperial College London, told Reuters in an email.

“The amygdala is a long way from the few centimetres into your nostril that you insert the test swab”.

In a previous fact check (here), a spokesperson for Public Health England explained that there is no area in the respiratory tract or nasal cavity where the brain is accessible.

“It would not be possible to touch the brain with a swab without drilling through the cribriform plate”, they said.

The cribriform plate forms the roof of the nasal cavity, and the nasopharyngeal swabs do not touch the cribriform plate.

Schultz also added that a person would not become submissive from receiving a COVID-19 test.

“From what we know about the human amygdala, there would have to be a lot of damage to cause any noticeable affect,” he explained.

According to Schultz, the “submissiveness” idea likely comes from Klüver-Bucy Syndrome (here), but that this requires much more damage to the amygdala, such as bilateral lesions of the medial temporal lobe which includes the amygdala.

This, he said, can cause docility, but also many other things, such as a compulsion to put things in one’s mouth, and inability to recognise familiar objects or people.

“Needless to say, people having had COVID tests do not present with such symptoms”.

VERDICT

False. The ancient Egyptian artwork depicts an ophthalmologist conducting an eye procedure on a craftsman, not the amygdala being bruised. It is impossible for COVID-19 tests to reach or damage the amygdala.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.

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