A ‘Guardian’ article about alien bacteria killed by bird flu on Mars is fake

21 May 2024
What was claimed

The Guardian has published an article about the first case of alien bacteria dying from bird flu being recorded on Mars.

Our verdict

This is not a real article, and the Guardian confirmed it had never published such a story.

According to a supposed screenshot circulating on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter), the Guardian has published an article about alien bacteria dying from bird flu on Mars. 

However, this is not a real article.

The image resembles a Guardian web page, with the headline: “First case of alien bacteria dying from bird flu recorded on Mars”.

This is followed by a subheading which reads: “Virus may have already killed other undescovered [sic] alien life across several local planets, possibly spreading across the universe”. 

Full Fact could not find any such article on the Guardian’s website or through a wider internet search. 

The Guardian also told Full Fact the screenshot “is not and has never been an article or headline published by the Guardian.”

Another clue the article is not real is the incorrect spelling of undiscovered as “undescovered” in the subheading.

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Where does the image come from?

The first use of the composite image of Mars and the ‘alien bacteria’ Full Fact could find was posted in an article on Space.com in February 2024 headlined ‘Astronauts may accidentally threaten Mars missions with their gut bacteria, scientists warn’. 

This was based on an article published in the journal Astrobiology which said microorganisms from Earth could evolve and adapt to the new environment on Mars, raising concerns “for human safety and planetary protection”. This article is principally focused on the potential health threats to humans, not “alien life”, and does not mention bird flu.

It is worth noting that some of the people sharing the fake Guardian article may be doing it as a joke, with some examples including the ‘tears of joy’ emoji. While original satirical works are often shared online in good humour, things like false headlines or pictures can be screenshotted and then shared without context—potentially leading some people to believe the claims they are seeing in isolation are true. 

What’s happening with bird flu?

In March 2024 a person in Texas who had contact with dairy cows tested positive for bird flu. It was the second case of the H5N1 strain identified in a person in the United States following a case in Colorado in 2022.

Human infections are rare, and can cause symptoms that range from mild illness, such as upper respiratory and eye infections, to severe disease such as pneumonia that can be fatal, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says “the current risk to the general public from bird flu viruses is low.” In a Preliminary Outbreak Assessment, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the “risk of entry of H5N1 virus capable of infecting domestic livestock is very low” but that the government “will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves.” 

Misinformation can spread quickly during large-scale news events, and it’s important to verify information shared on social media with official sources. We’ve also written about fake screenshots of Sky News posts calling Bondi attack terrorism and a fake Forbes cover featuring Iran’s supreme leader.

Image courtesy of ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team

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