Dr. Steven Taylor
If it walks like a duck: Quack cures and COVID-19
Quack cures and folk remedies have always been around. Some highly anxious people, desperate to find some way of protecting themselves, will turn to quack cures and dubious folk remedies. During the SARS outbreak, for example, the so-called cures included eating turnips, drinking kimchee, and even smoking cigarettes. I’d have to be really, really sick and very desperate to eat turnips, drink kimchee, and smoke cigarettes.
Some of the COVID-19 quack cures and folk remedies include eating garlic, spraying your body with chlorine, using essential oils, ingesting solutions containing grains of silver, or drinking bleach.
Even the dangerous quack cures have also always been around. During the Spanish flu, for example, some quack cures involved inhaling carbolic acid vapours or consuming pine tar. There was a report of one fellow, during the Spanish flu, who drank hydrogen peroxide because he’d heard it was a germ killer. He was rushed to the hospital, frothing at the mouth. He recovered but then caught the Spanish flu. Fortunately, he also recovered from that too.
So, what motivates people to pursue folk remedies and quack cures? There are all kinds of motivations:
· Some people blindly follow the advice of trusted family members, their peers, or celebrities. The followers of Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, would purchase whatever Goop product she recommended.
· Some people are not blind followers. Their thinking is more along the lines with Pascal’s Wager. They hedge their bets by pursuing both mainstream methods and quack cures, “just to be on the safe side.”
· The perceived severity of the disease increases the likelihood of pursuing quack cures. During the Spanish flu, as the mortality rates soared, so too did the willingness of people to try anything to keep themselves and their families safe.
· People are likely to pursue quack cures if they’re anxious, see themselves as highly vulnerable to disease, and have a low level of health literacy. The latter refers to the ability to understand and critically analyze the accuracy of health claims.
Should we dissuade people from pursuing quack cures and folk remedies? No, not unless the nostrums are harmful or likely to send you bankrupt. You shouldn’t drink bleach or chug peroxide, but if Goop gives you a false sense of security and calms your worried mind, then go for it—just so long as you wash your hands, cover your coughs, and do everything else that is currently being recommended by health authorities.