Mind the quacks

FOR the last few years I’ve been receiving spam emails contain links to all manner of ‘miracle’ cures. But since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, ads exhorting me to buy stuff ‘guaranteed’ to protect me from the pandemic have arrived in droves.

These go straight into the trash folder, but this week one seized my attention. It was for Silver Solution which ‘works faster, longer and more efficiently than other silvers to support your immune system.’ For a ‘donation’ of just $200 I would get 12 16-ounce bottles – and protection from the virus.

Years ago, health authorities in the US began warning of the dangers of ingesting colloidal silver, and last month, Ed Cara, writing for the Gizmodo website, said ‘there’s absolutely no evidence that taking colloidal silver will keep you safe from the new Coronavirus, nor ‘boost’ your immune system. Chronic doses of silver, on the other hand, will build up in the body and cause your skin to turn permanently grayish-blue.’

The purveyor of the Silver Solution I was offered was called Jim Bakker, an American televangelist and convicted fraudster. And now he’s in deep-doo, having just been been served with a ‘cease and desist’ notice from the  office of the New York Attorney General who said ‘The 2019 novel coronavirus poses serious consequences to public health … Your show’s segment may mislead consumers as to the effectiveness of the Silver Solution product in protecting against the current outbreak.’

Numerous reports of the notice sent to Bakker referred to him as a ‘quack.’ Everyone knows that word, but I guarantee that few know how it entered the English language. I certainly didn’t until I read the following on the UK Science Museum website: ‘The word ‘quack’ comes from the old Dutch word quacksalver  – ‘one who quacks (boasts) about the virtue of his salves.’

Medical professionals regularly used the word ‘quack’ to discredit anyone whom they disagreed with, especially unqualified healers. But a genuine ‘quack’ is someone who sells medicine for treatment while knowing that it doesn’t work.

At this point I have to confess to having once been conned by a quack who briefly ran newspaper ads for a ‘miracle’ hair growth lotion.

After spotting one of these ads, I went along to a grubby office in central Johannesburg where I met a woman who, in exchange for the equivalent of around £100, handed me a bottle of gunk to smear on a bald patch that appeared when I was in my early 20s. I was to rub the stuff into my scalp every night, and put on a shower cap.

After the first application, I experienced a burning sensation that became so painful I rushed to the shower to wash it off. To my horror, clumps of hair fell out, along with strips of skin. I legged it back to the woman’s office the next day to complain, but it was shuttered and she’d done a runner.

To add insult to injury when I reported the matter to the police, a copper chuckled and said, ‘there’s one born every day.’ He pointed at his bald head and declared ‘learn to live with it. I did.

Barry Duke’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers or sponsors.

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Barry Duke


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