There is no drug to treat Ebola that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But there are companies selling products claiming to do just that.
Things like Vitamin C, essential oils, herbs and snake venom -- all have been claimed to treat Ebola.
None has the backing of the FDA.
“We expected it,” says Gary Coody, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator.
“Unfortunately, during outbreak situations, fraudulent products claiming to prevent, treat and cure disease often appear on the market,” he says.
The Danger Of False Claims
Coody says the biggest concerns are that consumers may delay seeking the medical care they need if they really do have Ebola. Or the fraudulent claims could give consumers a false sense of protection against the Ebola virus.
So the FDA has sent warning letters to three companies it says are making fraudulent claims. The letters threaten property seizure and even criminal prosecution if the companies don’t respond appropriately.
Nathan Cortez, a law professor at SMU’s Dedman School of Law, says the warning letters serve as a method of public shaming.
“It’s also meant as a message to other companies to say we know companies are trying to defraud the public with fake Ebola tests and treatments and we’re on the case,” Cortez says.
A Fine Legal Line
The FDA sent one of three warning messages about Ebola treatment claims to a New Jersey-based company called Natural Solutions Foundation. The company sells a nutrient called “Nano Silver,” which it claims can kill any pathogen, including the Ebola virus.
The FDA says such claims are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Ralph Fucetela, a trustee for the company, says he understands there is no approved treatment for Ebola, but believes people should have the ability to try Nano Silver.
“Since we are in the middle of negotiating with the government with regard to how we can best describe what we believe is a very important health breakthrough, we are not using the legal term of art 'treatment of disease’,” Fucetola says.
The company may not say that Nano Silver “treats” Ebola, but it has claimed on its website, Twitter, and Facebook that Ebola does have a cure, and provides links to a 16-ounce bottle of Nano Silver for $25.
“We have removed the Nano Silver from the marketplace, and it is now available on a separate web page; no claims are made on that webpage,” Fucetola said. “We’re doing so under protest.”
The company has filed a petition of redress to the FDA.
People, Companies Search For Cure
The world is searching for an Ebola treatment. More than 8,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola. The World Health Organization fears it could see between 5,000 and 10,000 new cases reported a week by the beginning of December. And while there are a number of experimental drugs being tested in the current Ebola outbreak, nothing has been proven to work.
Online, it’s hard to tell what works. Scam artists know how to take advantage of fear, Cortez says.
“It’s like storm-chasing roofers, who go and try to defraud people after a big storm,” Cortez says. “Some [companies] may be making an honest mistake, other companies are trying to rip people off.”