Health Canada is launching an investigation after concerns were raised over a Victoria naturopath who treated a four-year-old boy with a rabid-dog saliva remedy.
The probe comes after British Columbia’s provincial health officer and an alternative-medicine group raised warning flags.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a statement that lyssin, a naturopathic product that claims to contain the infected saliva, could put patients at risk of contracting rabies.
“While I believe that homeopathy plays a complementary role for some families in their health, I have concerns that some people may delay or avoid proven effective treatments while relying on homeopathy alone,” Henry said in a statement.
Health Canada said in a statement Friday that the lyssin/hydrophobinum product is regulated as a natural health product, but a Health Canada official said the company where the naturopath allegedly obtained the product does not hold a licence to distribute the ingredient.
The statement said the sale of unlicensed natural health products is prohibited and could result in a $5,000 fine or up to three years in prison.
“Based on the information provided, Health Canada is opening a case for follow-up,” the statement said, adding that if it finds non-compliance, it will take action.
In a blog post that has since been removed, practitioner Anke Zimmermann detailed her treatment of the boy’s sleep and behavioural problems as a success.
The boy growled like a dog, couldn’t sleep because he was afraid of werewolves and was often defiant and overexcited, the post said.
She noted the boy was once bitten by a dog and it broke the skin.
Despite some expected relapses, she reports that the remedy “worked very well.”
In an interview on Friday, Zimmerman said that while the remedy begins with saliva that contains rabies, she doesn’t believe any virus remains in the sugar pill, after an extensive process of dilution.
“The remedies are prepared to the point that not even one molecule of the original substance is left in the solution,” Zimmermann said.
She likened it to antivenin, which may use a small dose of venom to treat a snake bite.
But Zimmerman said critics can’t have it both ways, when they criticize homeopathy.
“It either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t matter what the remedies are made from, because if it’s just water, who cares. If it does work, then we really should look at the great potential homeopathy has.”
She said she took down the original post after receiving hundreds of hateful messages, including threats of injury.
The B.C. Naturopathic Association filed a complaint Thursday against Zimmermann, claiming she may have breached the association’s code of conduct and code of ethics for naturopathic doctors.
It notes that Zimmermann is not a member of the association but her conduct still reflects on the organization.
Co-president Victor Chan said he was not aware of the remedy until hearing Zimmermann’s story, but said the association takes no issue if the treatment is federally approved.
Instead, the complaint filed with the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. relates to statements and posts Zimmermann has made, in person and online, that reflect poorly on the profession.
“We had some concerns about unprofessional conduct and adherence to a code of ethics,” Chan said. “We also had some concerns about misrepresentation and overstatement of claims about a particular remedy and practice.”
The B.C. Association of Homeopaths defended the use of the product in a letter it sent to Dr. Henry.
It said the use of nosodes, or homeopathic remedies, goes back hundreds of years and they are used in practice regularly.
“Lyssinum is just one of many nosodes that homeopaths have available to use in practice and has been part of our pharmacopeia since 1833,” the letter said.
“Because they are prepared as a homeopathic remedy going through the process of potentization, as a result, the end product doesn’t bear any toxicity or infectious elements that would be a threat to the public.”