A Cure for Ebola?! - Yep, Internet Quack Sites Are Already Trying to Rip People Off

The recent ebola outbreak is spawning dubious, if not dangerous, medical remedies and​ advice on the Internet. Many â€‹of these "alternative medicine" sites ​are hoping to make a tidy profit from our fears. Not much has changed since the days of the traveling medicine show. It's still common that when deadly, contagious outbreaks emerge, they are quickly trailed by conspiracy theoristsdoomsday preppers and dishonest marketers that push their ​snake oil. 

In the past several weeks, questionable “natural health” sites have made some wild claims, suggesting herbs, snake and spider venom, nutritional supplements, colloidal silver and even marijuana can keep the deadly virus at bay or even cure it. The sites range from your typical fly-by-night sales operations to conspiracy-theorist destinations to homeopathic medicine blogs.

Even looking up the hashtag #ebola on Twitter can find one of these sites. A few weeks back, I clicked a shortlink underneath the tweet “#Ebola has a cure,” which took me to a simple shopping page with herbal remedies. Minutes after discovering the site, I clicked over to the shopping cart, only to find a “404” page. Returning to the previous page, I found that it, too, was taken down. Tracing my steps back, I found that even the tweet was gone, erasing any evidence of a possible scam.

But it’s not just the obviously shady sites touting cures for ebola; some well-known alternative health sites have also been peddling treatments. The Natural Solutions Foundation (also known as NSFMarketplace and DrRimaTruthReports.com), is a group of moderately trafficked websites run by Rima Laibow, who is reportedly a practicing medical doctor in New Jersey. Laibow produced and starred in a few YouTube videos claiming that a “Nano Silver” treatment the Natural Solutions Foundation sells can protect people from the ravages of ebola.

In her videos, some of which are still on YouTube, Laibow proclaims that her Silver Sol Nano Silver and CBD “Hemp Oil” Chocolate Bars can cure people with HIV, hepatitis B and C, many types of influenza, and ebola, which she insinuates is a “weaponized virus.”

Laibow claims her silver solution is safe and non-toxic for everyone, including pregnant women, children and the elderly. In reality, ingesting silver particles has been associated with organ toxicity, inflammation and the formation of free radicals. Some people who have ingested silver compounds have developed a condition called argyria, where silver deposits deep in tissues discolor the skin and organs, tinting them blue when they’re exposed to light.

Laibow’s marketing of an ebola cure got the attention of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, which jointly sent her a warning letter late last month. The feds said that Laibow markets her products as drugs that are intended “for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.” And since these treatments are not approved medications, her marketing sites violate the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

As of this week, Laibow has apparently not responded to the warning, and her sites still market her ebola "cure." PayPal has taken up the matter, suspending NSFMarketplace’s silver and chocolate bars from its online payment system.

Laibow has devised a workaround, however, rerouting visitors to the site to a mirror site where she takes payments from major credit cards. A bottle of silver costs $25 and hemp chocolate bars retail for $24.

Laibow's labyrinth isn't the only target of the feds. The FDA issued warning letters to Young Living Essential Oils and doTERRA International (both based in Utah), which were marketing essential oils as a treatment for ebola. Young Living had claimed viruses like ebola “are no match” for its oils.

Young Living Essential Oils, which also markets supplements, now makes no mention of ebola on its website. And doTERRA International, which had marketed oregano as a treatment for ebola on a website called AnytimeEssentials, now has nothing but a placement page that states, “I am not a doctor and the statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

But not all sites with bogus ebola cures actually market the products they promote, so they are not breaking any federal laws by making healthcare suggestions about ebola.

One site, LightParty.com, which merges political activism with homeopathic medicine, has suggested rattlesnake venom, yellow viper, bushmaster snake, phosphorus, and Mercurius Corrosivus as practical ebola remedies. While not selling any of these homeopathic remedies itself, it recommends a Northern California homeopathic laboratory as the source of these "treatments."

LightParty warns its visitors that the ebola outbreak is akin to the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 and is “poised to sweep our country.” It further claims that 80% of people who used mainstream or “allopathic” treatments died from the Spanish flu, while 80% of people who received homeopathic treatment for the pathogen lived.

Yet another site, GreenMedInfo, has its own list of what it deems promising ebola treatments, which include coffee, fermented soy, Garcinia kola, homeopathic spider venom, vitamin C and the sex hormone estradiol. The informational site does not market any of these remedies.

GreenMedInfo is not alone in recommending the seeds of the Garcina kola tree as a ebola remedy, and therefore it gets more attention than most dubious alternative remedies. Maurice Iwu, a Nigerian professor of pharmacognosy (the study of natural medical treatments) and a former researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, first made the claim in a 1999 paper that kola seeds can stop ebola from spreading. Nigerians, reportedly believing Iwu’s advice, had carried the seeds around with them to ward off the virus. Worried that a small outbreak in Nigeria might get worse, Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, went on the record to refute Iwu's claim of an effective treatment from kola.

Without banking on unproven miracle cures as part of its program to fight ebola, Nigeria has so far been successful in ​containing the outbreak in the country. Its reliance on proven medicine and its implementation of a rapid public-health response effort to trace and watch every contact with its patient zero, Patrick Sawyer, has proven successful compared to the early responses in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The U.S. is using a similar contact tracing program here to find and watch the contacts of our own patient zero, Thomas Duncan.

The American Herbal Products Association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the Natural Products Association and the United Natural Products Alliance recently issued this joint statement regarding alternative ebola treatments:
  • Marketers and retailers of dietary supplements are urged to refuse to stock or sell any supplements that are presented as treating or curing ebola virus disease, or preventing ebola virus infection.
  • Marketers and retailers should refrain from promoting any dietary supplement as a cure or treatment for ebola virus disease.
  • Anyone who believes they may have ebola virus disease or may have come in contact with the ebola virus should contact a healthcare professional immediately.

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