Every quack loves a good pandemic.
They look at pandemics or outbreaks as a way to peddle faux remedies to make a quick buck.
It’s hard to bring up quackery, Dr. Lydia Kang says, without talking about the first snake oil salesman.
Kang, an internal medicine physician at the Nebraska Medical Center, is the co-author of the book “Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.” She discussed the history of medical quackery during a virtual speaker session last month.
Clark Stanley was a “fantastic salesman,” made famous at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
He sold snake oil liniment, which he said could cure a number of ailments. In a presentation at the expo, he pulled a rattlesnake out of a sack, slit it open and plunged it into a vat of boiling water. Stanley skimmed the snake fat off the top and mixed it into jars of liniment.
Stanley made tons of money selling the product across the country. But authorities eventually found that the liniment didn’t contain any snake oil.
Quackery is still around today. (Just Google “COVID-19 quackery.”) Part of the reason it still exists is because we don’t have the perfect cure for every disease or a full understanding of how the human body works, Kang said.
Quacks often offer a solution that seems safer or cheaper than what’s available. And, sometimes, the side effects of modern medicine frighten patients.
Modern-day snake oil salesmen have the internet to help further peddle their fraudulent products.
Over the course of history, the rise of an epidemic or pandemic has unleashed “real ingenuity” when it comes to finding a cure, Kang said. Often, the resulting treatments touted as “cures” often don’t work. And the creators don’t necessarily know their cures are fakes.
“There are so many different reasons why quackery exists today,” Kang said. “I don’t believe it will ever go away.”
To sift through modern medical quackery, Kang suggests starting by talking to your physician. The worst-case scenario in that instance: They tell you it isn’t safe.
“Be careful, basically,” Kang said. “Don’t be too trusting. Really do your reading and keep your eyes open.”
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