What spreads faster - ebola or misinformation?

We wanted to push this for September 28th (Neal’s Birthday WOOOP WOOP) but we’re glad we waited. Ebola has come stateside so the conversation is really just heating up. This horrific, currently incurable illness is, of course, becoming quite the Internet craze. Ebola is creating a whole cottage industry of snake oil salesmen ready to make a quick buck. Without fail, there are always people ready to take advantage of a crisis.

We picked Ebola because it’s the PERFECT example of the knee-jerk reactions we expect to see from quacks when something like this goes on.  To us, the whole thing has become a sitcom. Here’s how the episode unfolds: 

Scene 1: Set the conflict by introducing a scary disease that has no established cure.

Scene 2: Have false experts (sometimes people in authority) perpetuating rumors and propaganda to the lay public.

Scene 3: For further tension, introduce conspiracy theories that set the conversation against those trying to fix the problem and help further the distrust and disdain for authority.

Scene 4: Save the day by introducing sketchy treatments that were “overlooked” by the established medical community.

Scene 5: The nerdy, shy medical community actually saves the day, but is ignored and downplayed.

Let’s go through, scene by scene…

Scene 1: Introduce a scary disease that has no established cure

Ebola is a virus that currently has no cure. Right now, the best we can do is treat with palliative care. It’s super scary as it causes high fever, GI stress, and bleeding from the nose, mouth, ears or eyes. As many as 90% of people infected die.

Scene 2: Bring out the false experts (who are sometimes people in authority) perpetuating rumors and propaganda to the lay public.

So much bad information was spread initially that prevented the containment of the disease in West Africa, the epicenter of this outbreak. Many people felt it wasn’t real, that it was a government cover-up to hide recent scandals, some were ignorant of symptoms and prevention techniques, and others feared the social impact after diagnosis.

But that’s not the craziest. How about injecting or eating the blood of people who have had Ebola and recovered?  That’s right, there is a whole black market of people selling blood online. What could go wrong with buying weird blood on the Internet or the black market? Although extremely dangerous and unsafe, the theory is that these people may have antibodies to the virus and that would transfer to the person using the blood. However, you would also be exposed to whatever diseases this person had. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is a bad idea and 10 is a great idea, we give it a big fat NOPE!

A personal favorite of ours is holy water. A priest in Africa sent a large volume of holy water to one of the African countries. He claimed that his holy water would cure the virus in rapid time. Excuse our French, but screw that guy. Liberians already believed, through propaganda, that Ebola was spiritually caused and cured by religion. He's throwing gasoline on a very serious fire.

Scene 3:  For further tension, introduce conspiracy theories that set the conversation against those trying to fix the problem and help further the distrust and disdain for authority.

“This outbreak is being created by the government and big Pharma to sell vaccines and medications, or to control the population.“

This is insane and we don’t even know where to begin. The government does not make money off medications and vaccines, so they do not really have any motive to create diseases. It’s quite the opposite obviously;  diseases, medicines, and vaccines cost a tremendous amount to the government and they work pretty darn hard to decrease those costs so we can buy more tanks (Sorry, couldn’t help that one). Government control is another thing, but they do so very well already via the corporations that have us set up as consumers. No need for mind control via medicines; iPads work well enough.

“Since the CDC owns a patent on a type of Ebola virus, they must have created this outbreak, for some nefarious purpose.”

The CDC holds patents on lots of diseases; this allows free research of diseases, where if a company owned them, companies could stop some research from being done. Now as to whether companies should be able to patent diseases, that is a discussion for another time.

Scene 4: “Save the day” by introducing sketchy treatments that coincidentally have been completely “overlooked” by the established medical community.

Let's go through some of the craziest “cures” and “treatments” going around on the Intertubes for Ebola.

Magic Water

There actually are magical homeopathic Ebola cures available for purchase.  We’ve discussed homeopathy ad nauseam before. The long and short of it:  Homeopathy “treatments” do NOT contain a single molecule of active agents to treat an illness nor “create an immune response” as they purport.  It’s magic water or sugar pills and the companies that make them have lost lawsuits because of this – one is actually leaving North America after a very recent devastating loss.

But let’s talk about this logically. To make homeopathic Ebola, one would have to get a sample of Ebola first. Whose job is that?  Is that person new on the job?  “Um, yeah, we’re going to go ahead and ask you to get a sample of that deadly, incurable illness.”  “Wait, what?  I thought I was just the bookkeeper!”  The person would have to be part ninja as well, to get by the medical staff and members of the CDC that are on site. Suddenly this sitcom turned into an action flick.

The Silver Bullet

By far the most popular “miracle cure, treatment and preventative” being touted is Colloidal Silver. Inevitably whenever there is some kind of disease outbreak, this substance gets dragged out as the “cure” for it. It does not matter what disease or the pathology - colloidal silver is the answer.

We find this is very strange because colloidal silver has never been tested in humans to show it cures any disease. It's not an essential nutrient nor a part of any biological process in humans.  Sure, you can find lots of anecdotes and test-tube studies… Those, however, do not mean anything. (We’re inserting our default statement:  “Show us any data you have to the contrary and we’ll gladly change our mind”).

Online, you can hear all kinds of people saying that the FDA refuses to test Colloidal Silver, or that they are suppressing data. Here is the thing; manufacturers do not need the FDA in order to do a clinical trial. They can set up their own trial for any disease they want (hopefully they conduct it properly, but that’s another topic entirely). The system has made millions of dollars off Colloidal Silver, so they don’t lack financial resources to conduct a study. It is, however far more profitable for them to make a claim, conduct no research, and assert that they are being suppressed by the boogeyman.

Scene 5: The nerdy, shy medical community actually saves the day, but is ignored and downplayed.

There is currently a promising medicine to treat Ebola effectively, but it requires more testing and clinical trials. There is also a vaccine in the works that hopefully will be successful and will allow Ebola to be practically eliminated like polio.

We’d argue the CDC has saved the day, through planning and awareness.  From their page on the current outbreak:

“Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. is very low. We know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms. The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola. In the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa). None resulted in any transmission in the United States.”

Being a shy nerd has its downfalls. The cool kids don’t listen to you when they should.

While modern medicine admits it does not have a cure, so-called alternative medicine claims miracles without any research. The "experts" often talk about how evil big Pharma and the FDA are compared to the natural products industry. But where are these same people when it comes to natural companies and Internet scam artists blatantly lying to people? All we hear are crickets chirping...

All we're looking for is some consistency.  We need less hypocrisy from these pseudo-practitioners and authority figures.  We need the shy nerds to get some confidence, stand up, and shout the truth from the rooftops! 

Just trying to keep it real...

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

neal@woodstockvitamins.com

About Dr. Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller is a holistic pharmacist, supplement expert, and founder of Woodstock Vitamins. Dr. Neal’s mission is to challenge the natural products industry, redefining holistic care and setting the standard for supplement quality. His methods and products are backed by real science, and with them, he builds and supports his customers’ lifelong wellness strategies.

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