Getting Medieval On Ebola?

Dish Staff —  Aug 18 2014 @ 3:04pm
by Dish Staff

With regards to containing the outbreak, Stephen Mihm describes a medieval approach called “cordon sanitaire” that’s currently being used in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone:

The problem, then as now, is the logistical challenge of completely eliminating any movement in or out of a large territory. One critic, writing in the 1880s about cholera outbreaks in Europe, observed that officials could “close every railroad line and every Alpine wheel route,” but refugees “would improvise a hundred footpaths through the mountains to find a way home.”

Moreover, the use of a cordon sanitaire in the past, while ostensibly aimed at restricting the movement of people, often had the opposite effect. In the Egyptian cholera epidemics of the late 19th century, imperial administrators used the cordon sanitaire, only to find that it panicked the populace. Many people fled the area out of fear that they would perish if left behind.

The practice can, notes Mihm, even cause further deaths: “It is perhaps not surprising that by the late 19th century many people came to denounce the practice as a relic of the Dark Ages.” Meanwhile, Dr. Philip Rosoff questions the use of experimental drugs:

If you read the WHO release on the ethics of using these drugs, they emphasize a couple of points: it should be okay to use them, but informed consent should be gotten. That seems to be self-evident but I’m not sure what informed consent means under situations of such desperation when a drug that’s never been used in people is held out as a life saver.

And he adds that this type of scenario makes good science unlikely:

[T]he WHO talks about collecting data but that’s going to be almost impossible to do. It’ll be impossible to decide whether it’s effective or not because it’s not going to be used under controlled circumstances. When people get better, we’ll have no idea whether it was because people are using the drug, or if somebody dies after getting the drug you don’t know whether it’s the disease or the drug. Because these patients are so sick, it may not be possible to detect side effects that you could under more controlled circumstances.

And then there are the entirely fake treatments, like Garcinia Cambogia powder, being marketed to the paranoid. Michael Byrne notes a silver-based dietary supplement which may have already scammed its way into Nigeria:

Of particular concern is a product called NanoSilver, sold by the Natural Solutions Foundation. The product is basically a solution of tiny silver particles, and purports to be something of a cure-all for infections of any stripe. Silver has demonstrated antimicrobal properties and, in the hands of the supplement industry, this can only mean that it treats whatever disease is handy. And while indeed silver is effective in surface antibiotic applications—as a disinfectant coating for medical devices, or a antimicrobal protectant utilized around public spaces—it is also fairly toxic to humans. And despite the howling chorus of natural heath boosters (just Google “silver particles cure”) the concept hasn’t really been shown to cure or treat anything once it’s inside the human body.

Previous Dish coverage of the Ebola outbreak here.