Bleach and 1665

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”

Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” (New York Times)

Trump is not the only one trying to do a ‘tremendous number’ on the lungs of the world. Between March 3-10 2020 INTERPOL coordinated Operation Pangea across 90 countries to seek out unauthorised and bogus products claiming to be antiviral medications. In the one week they identified over 2000 such products, including the other Trump card, the antimalarial chloroquine. The operation seized 4.4 million units of illicit pharmaceuticals worldwide” (Europol)

A bewildering array of ‘cures’ have appeared over the past months: Homeopathic globuli (sugar pills), “Virus Shut Out Protection” pendants, a mix containing amphetamines, cocaine and nicotine on sale on the Dark Web for US$300, various homeopathic remedies, vegetarianism, drinking boiled ginger, eating turmeric, garlic and onions, drinking lemon in warm water, gargling salt water, drinking hot liquids like tea, avoiding ice cream, eating mango, eating durian, eating chicken, using heat including hair dryers and hot saunas, eating cow dung, drinking cow urine, using snake oil, steam inhalation, juice of bittergourd, neem leaves, eating bananas, taking six deep breaths and then coughing by covering one’s mouth, colloidal silver, industrial methanol, and saline solutions. (Wikipedia)

CNN reports that even the great polymath Sir Isaac Newton considered curing the plague with toad vomit lozenges!

But, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Read now a few passages from Daniel Defoe’s account of similar ‘quackerie’ in London during the plague of 1665.

Defoe – A Journal of the Plague Year

The common people, who, ignorant and stupid in their reflections as they were brutishly wicked and thoughtless before, were now led by their fright to extremes of folly; and, as I have said before, that they ran to conjurers and witches, and all sorts of deceivers, to know what should become of them (who fed their fears, and kept them always alarmed and awake on purpose to delude them and pick their pockets), so they were as mad upon their running after quacks and mountebanks, and every practising old woman, for medicines and remedies; storing themselves with such multitudes of pills, potions, and preservatives, as they were called, that they not only spent their money but even poisoned themselves beforehand for fear of the poison of the infection; and prepared their bodies for the plague, instead of preserving them against it.

On the other hand it is incredible and scarce to be imagined, how the posts of houses and corners of streets were plastered over with doctors’ bills and papers of ignorant fellows, quacking and tampering in physic, and inviting the people to come to them for remedies, which was generally set off with such flourishes as these, viz.: ‘Infallible preventive pills against the plague.’ ‘Neverfailing preservatives against the infection.’ ‘Sovereign cordials against the corruption of the air.’ ‘Exact regulations for the conduct of the body in case of an infection.’ ‘Anti-pestilential pills.’ ‘Incomparable drink against the plague, never found out before.’ ‘An universal remedy for the plague.’ ‘The only true plague water.’ ‘The royal antidote against all kinds of infection’;—and such a number more that I cannot reckon up; and if I could, would fill a book of themselves to set them down.

Others set up bills to summon people to their lodgings for directions and advice in the case of infection. These had specious titles also, such as these:—

‘An eminent High Dutch physician, newly come over from Holland, where he resided during all the time of the great plague last year in Amsterdam, and cured multitudes of people that actually had the plague upon them.’

‘An Italian gentlewoman just arrived from Naples, having a choice secret to prevent infection, which she found out by her great experience, and did wonderful cures with it in the late plague there, wherein there died 20,000 in one day.’

‘An ancient gentlewoman, having practised with great success in the late plague in this city, anno 1636, gives her advice only to the female sex. To be spoken with,’

‘An experienced physician, who has long studied the doctrine of antidotes against all sorts of poison and infection, has, after forty years’ practice, arrived to such skill as may, with God’s blessing, direct persons how to prevent their being touched by any contagious distemper whatsoever. He directs the poor gratis.’

I take notice of these by way of specimen. I could give you two or three dozen of the like and yet have abundance left behind. ’Tis sufficient from these to apprise any one of the humour of those times, and how a set of thieves and pickpockets not only robbed and cheated the poor people of their money, but poisoned their bodies with odious and fatal preparations; some with mercury, and some with other things as bad, perfectly remote from the thing pretended to, and rather hurtful than serviceable to the body in case an infection followed.

I cannot omit a subtility of one of those quack operators, with which he gulled the poor people to crowd about him, but did nothing for them without money. He had, it seems, added to his bills, which he gave about the streets, this advertisement in capital letters, viz., ‘He gives advice to the poor for nothing.’

Abundance of poor people came to him accordingly, to whom he made a great many fine speeches, examined them of the state of their health and of the constitution of their bodies, and told them many good things for them to do, which were of no great moment. But the issue and conclusion of all was, that he had a preparation which if they took such a quantity of every morning, he would pawn his life they should never have the plague; no, though they lived in the house with people that were infected. This made the people all resolve to have it; but then the price of that was so much, I think ’twas half-a-crown. ‘But, sir,’ says one poor woman, ‘I am a poor almswoman and am kept by the parish, and your bills say you give the poor your help for nothing.’ ‘Ay, good woman,’ says the doctor, ‘so I do, as I published there. I give my advice to the poor for nothing, but not my physic.’ ‘Alas, sir!’ says she, ‘that is a snare laid for the poor, then; for you give them advice for nothing; that is to say, you advise them gratis, to buy your physic for their money; so does every shop-keeper with his wares.’ Here the woman began to give him ill words, and stood at his door all that day, telling her tale to all the people that came, till the doctor finding she turned away his customers, was obliged to call her upstairs again, and give her his box of physic for nothing, which perhaps, too, was good for nothing when she had it.

But to return to the people, whose confusions fitted them to be imposed upon by all sorts of pretenders and by every mountebank. There is no doubt but these quacking sort of fellows raised great gains out of the miserable people, for we daily found the crowds that ran after them were infinitely greater, and their doors were more thronged than those of Dr Brooks, Dr Upton, Dr Hodges, Dr Berwick, or any, though the most famous men of the time.

As for quackery and mountebanks, of which the town was so full, I listened to none of them, and have observed often since, with some wonder, that for two years after the plague I scarcely saw or heard of one of them about town. Some fancied they were all swept away in the infection to a man, and were for calling it a particular mark of God’s vengeance upon them for leading the poor people into the pit of destruction, merely for the lucre of a little money they got by them; but I cannot go that length neither. That abundance of them died is certain—many of them came within the reach of my own knowledge—but that all of them were swept off I much question. I believe rather they fled into the country and tried their practices upon the people there, who were in apprehension of the infection before it came among them.

I am supposing now the plague to be begun, as I have said, and that the magistrates began to take the condition of the people into their serious consideration. What they did as to the regulation of the inhabitants and of infected families, I shall speak to by itself; but as to the affair of health, it is proper to mention it here that, having seen the foolish humour of the people in running after quacks and mountebanks, wizards and fortune-tellers, which they did as above, even to madness, the Lord Mayor, a very sober and religious gentleman, appointed physicians and surgeons for relief of the poor—I mean the diseased poor and in particular ordered the College of Physicians to publish directions for cheap remedies for the poor, in all the circumstances of the distemper. This, indeed, was one of the most charitable and judicious things that could be done at that time, for this drove the people from haunting the doors of every disperser of bills, and from taking down blindly and without consideration poison for physic and death instead of life.

This direction of the physicians was done by a consultation of the whole College; and, as it was particularly calculated for the use of the poor and for cheap medicines, it was made public, so that everybody might see it, and copies were given gratis to all that desired it. But as it is public, and to be seen on all occasions, I need not give the reader of this the trouble of it.

I shall not be supposed to lessen the authority or capacity of the physicians when I say that … the Plague defied all medicines; the very physicians were seized with it … destroyed by that very enemy they directed others to oppose. This was the case of several physicians, even some of them the most eminent, and of several of the most skilful surgeons. Abundance of quacks too died, who had the folly to trust to their own medicines, which they must needs be conscious to themselves were good for nothing, and who rather ought, like other sorts of thieves, to have run away, sensible of their guilt, from the justice that they could not but expect should punish them as they knew they had deserved.

And Defoe’s version of ❤️ the NHS

Not that it is any derogation from the labour or application of the physicians to say they fell in the common calamity; nor is it so intended by me; it rather is to their praise that they ventured their lives so far as even to lose them in the service of mankind. They endeavoured to do good, and to save the lives of others. But we were not to expect that the physicians could stop God’s judgements, or prevent a distemper eminently armed from heaven from executing the errand it was sent about.

Doubtless, the physicians assisted many by their skill, and by their prudence and applications, to the saving of their lives and restoring their health. But it is not lessening their character or their skill, to say they could not cure those that had the tokens upon them, or those who were mortally infected before the physicians were sent for, as was frequently the case.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke has shared her experience of working with coronavirus patients, and her fears of a second wave, in this extraordinary piece.

At time of writing, April 2020, no vaccine for COVID-19 prevention was available. At time of editing and publication Sky News reports that a drugmaker currently carrying out trials “will be ready to deliver from October if all goes well” with its COVID-19 vaccine. The Guardian reports that researchers at Imperial College London will begin clinical trials of a possible coronavirus vaccine in 300 people, while a Professor says early vaccines may not stop the virus being contracted but could prevent recipients developing severe COVID-19 illness.

Since COVID-19 first appeared many have made various nefarious claims for cures and how best to manage coronavirus. Professor & Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University has given her clear assement of how the UK and USA have responded to the pandemic.


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