By Laurie Sullivan
“Step right up! Step right up! Ladies and gentlemen, you see before your very eyes the medical wonder of our age – a bottle of a most excellent elixir capable of curing everything from baldness to Ebola! That’s right Ebola, the viral haemorrhagic disease that has so far confounded medical science, killing 3083 people and sickening 6553 others in West Africa. Come closer and feast your eyes on…”
Just busting to know the name of this miracle cure for Ebola, aren’t you?
Well, as it happens there’s not one ‘cure’ but THREE (this week, at least).
EBOLA ‘CURE’ No. 1 – Nano Silver is “…the world’s only hope against Ebola and the other antibiotics/anti-viral resistant pathogens.” Or, so its maker claims.
EBOLA ‘CURE’ No. 2 – Ebola is a pushover for Young Living Essential Oil Products, which are touted as the answer to… “viral infections (including Ebola), Parkinson’s disease, autism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, and multiple sclerosis”.
EBOLA ‘CURE’ No. 3 – The disease-killing capabilities of dōTERRA Essential Oil products also know no bounds. Its website says it can be taken for “…conditions including, but not limited to, viral infections (including Ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumour reduction, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions…”
Scams prey on vulnerable and gullible
These and many more ‘snake oil’ cures from America have come under scrutiny from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The nation’s drug authority has threatened to prosecute those behind the products if they continue with their fraudulent flights of fancy.
In a statement, the FDA says virtually every disease outbreak brings a flurry of fresh fakes claiming to be able to prevent, treat or even cure the particular condition.
“The FDA monitors for fraudulent products and false product claims related to the Ebola virus and takes appropriate action to protect consumers. There are no approved treatments for Ebola available for purchase on the Internet. Consumers are warned to beware unapproved products sold online and in retail stores claiming to prevent or treat the Ebola virus and other conditions, such as cancer, autism, Parkinson’s and heart disease.”
But West African countries have no FDA and Ebola-affected countries have also been awash with often-bizarre Ebola preventions and cures, praying on the fears of the panic-stricken populations in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, and their nervous neighbours. One ‘cure’ involved taking a mixture of hot chocolate, Nescafe, milk, sugar and raw onions once a day for 3 days!
Japan abuzz over old-new phone apps
In tech-loving Japan, fears over the spread of dengue fever in Tokyo has sparked fresh interest in dozens of smartphone apps available from Apple's App Store and Google Play that claim to banish bugs by emitting high-frequency sound.
One app, Anti Mosquitoes Ultra Pro Free (Google Play) says it ‘turns your phone into an ultrasound device, sending high-pitch 12-22 KHz waves to keep mosquitoes and other nasty insects away’. Online reviews have been less than glowing.
According to medical entomologist, Jonathan Day, the ol’ mosquito-repulsion-by-sound scam has been around for at least a decade. Not so much fakes, they simply don’t work.
Dr Day says the best dengue deterrent is controlling mosquito numbers in and around the home, wearing long sleeves and pants, and using personal repellents containing a proven, effective ingredient, such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on all exposed skin when outdoors.
In the meantime, Tokyo residents are waiting for a sure-fire mozzie killer – winter.
Malaria fakes hard to spot
Travelvax Australia has written previously about the risks of buying anti-malarial and other drugs in marketplaces and from unlicensed drug stores in developing countries. Besides offering little or no protection, counterfeit drugs may contain harmful toxic compounds.
Fakes are no longer easily spotted: Counterfeiters use state-of-the-art equipment to produce flawless copies of the drugs and packaging – right down to holograms. Some have just enough of the active ingredient to pass cursory quality control tests.
A large proportion of the world’s counterfeit medicines originate in Asia. Surprisingly, an estimated 40% end up in first-world countries – particularly in North America and Europe.
Anti-malarials containing suboptimal amounts of active ingredients are contributing to the development of highly drug-resistant strains of the disease. The issue has reached alarming levels in regions of Southeast Asia, particularly on the Thailand – Cambodia border and even threatens to change the malaria landscape in far-off Africa.
Homeopathic vaccines untested
Because of the clandestine nature of the fake drug trade, the WHO struggles to provide accurate, up-to-date figures on its true size. However, it concedes that only 38 (20%) of its 191 member states have well-developed national drug regulations to control their distribution and sale.
Travelvax Australia is occasionally asked if homoeopathic immunisation is an effective alternative to conventional vaccines.
The short answer is ‘no’. Despite the claims of its supporters, the safety and effectiveness of homeopathic medicines is both untested and unknown, according to Australia’s National Centre for Immunisation, Research and Surveillance’s fact sheet on homeopathic vaccination.
Ethical dilemma looms in West Africa
For the people of West Africa, there is hope for scientifically-based Ebola vaccines and treatment drugs.
This week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) launched a formal review of experimental treatments for Ebola. It aims to compile everything that's known so far about their efficacy, safety, and quality to speed up evidence-based decision-making. In a statement, EMA announced that the review will cover the 6 treatments announced to date – BCX 4430, Fab'entech’s hyperimmune horse sera, MAPP Biologicals' ZMapp, Sarepta’s AVI-7537, Fujifilm's favipiravir, and Tekmira's TKM-Ebola – as well as others as they emerge.
Convalescent serum therapy is also a promising treatment and the WHO has earmarked it for further consideration. Two American doctors received serum treatment from recovered patients, but they also received other experimental drugs, making it difficult to determine what part serum treatment played in their recoveries.
Broken health systems and a drastic shortage of medical professionals make the routine use of convalescent therapy in West Africa problematic. But, given the lack of treatment options and the ever-growing disease toll, many are calling for the promising, yet untested vaccines – such as the one produced in Canada – and treatments to be used as soon as possible.
But, stocks of the drugs are woefully inadequate and deciding who should be first in line to receive them is just one of a host of ethical questions to be answered.
FOOTNOTE: The Australian government continues to advise travellers to reconsider non-essential travel to the three West African countries most affected by Ebola – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Read more about the disease, infection prevention advice, and the latest news on the current epidemic from the WHO and the CDC. CIDRAP provides a comprehensive list of resources, as well as the latest news on the outbreak.