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Bloodletting, gas fumes: 1918 flu quack cures

October 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

As the coronavirus has spread around the world, so have quack preventions and treatments for symptoms — which happened during the 1918 flu pandemic as well.

In the face of threat by a new infectious disease, people become desperate, said Dr. Jeremy Brown, an emergency care physician and author of "Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History. "

Although conventional doctors had just recently gained more respect than alternative practitioners by the early 20th century, mainstream doctors still "had almost nothing to offer" for the flu said Laura Spinney, a science journalist and author of "Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. "

"Through the course of the pandemic, you see people gradually turning away from conventional medicine as they realize it can't help and turning to the alternatives, folk medicines, quack cures and so on," Spinney said.

about the importance of trust between people and doctors and public health experts," Spinney said.

Since aspirin was known for reducing fevers, too, the drug became the international first-line treatment for flu — sometimes administered in doses six times higher than what is now known to be safe, Brown said.

That's the story of the suggestion that hydroxychloroquine can treat Covid-19 symptoms, Brown added — another antimalarial drug that was once touted by US President Donald Trump and temporarily issued an emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration.

"Some people were hooked on to the belief that even if you were well, having some blood removed was sort of a good preventative measure, like, perhaps today, we might take some vitamins or go on a jog," Brown said.

A sanitary worker who went to investigate this claim "saw that there was indeed a relationship that while a lot of people were dying of influenza in the local area, at these gasworks where people were working, their influenza rate was much, much lower than the general population," Brown said.

"Evacuating the bad stuff out of the patient" was the mindset of doctors who treated their patients' fevers with castor oil, enemas and laxatives made from magnesia or mercury chloride, Brown said.

Doctors and the general public know a lot more than they did in 1918 — so while doctors in 1918 didn't know any better, "we can't claim ignorance" about this pandemic, Brown said.

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