Homeopathy has been used to treat epidemics since the time of Hahnemann. Different strategies have been used for it, including individualization, combination remedies, genus epidemicus, and isopathy. This article explores the evidence for each of these approaches. While individualization is the gold standard, it is impractical to use on a widespread basis. Combination remedies can be effective but must be based on the symptoms of a given epidemic in a specific location. Treatment with genus epidemicus can also be successful if based on data from many practitioners. Finally, isopathy shows promise and might be more readily accepted by mainstream medicine due to its similarity to vaccination.. The challenge for the future is to refine these approaches and to build on the knowledge base with additional rigorous trials. Then only homeopathy could be seen as an attractive alternative for treating epidemic diseases.
Epidemic diseases are diseases that spread rapidly and widely, affecting many individuals in a population at the same time. Throughout history there have been reports of epidemics—from the plague in Europe in the Middle Ages to the smallpox that killed millions of people in the America. The Yellow fever epidemic, worldwide flu pandemic and more recently epidemics of HIV-AIDS, Ebola,swine flu, bird flu, and Zika virus have effected large number of people.
Controlling epidemic outbursts is a great challenge; Vaccines, anti-viral medications, and antibiotics are the standard conventional treatments for these diseases. However, difficulties with developing and disseminating immunizations, viral mutations, and the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are undermining these approaches. The World Health Organization has recently called for “innovative” approaches for treating communicable diseases.
Homeopathy in Epidemics
It is interesting to note that homeopathy was invented in the same year as Jenner first practiced vaccination (1796) and that Hahnemann strongly favored vaccination. Homeopathy first rose to prominence in the 19th century due to its success in treating epidemic diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, and typhus. There are references of use of homeopathy for epidemic diseases by Hahnemann, who recommended Belladonna for scarlet fever.
There are several different strategies that have been used by homeopaths to treat epidemic diseases, including individualization, combination remedies, genus epidemicus, and isopathy.
Individualization which is the gold standard in homeopathic practice requires a thorough case taking to determine the specific remedy for each person, based on the totality of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. The cases of children with acute diarrhea in both Nicaragua and Nepal, epidemic diseases, such as Chikungunya fever, pulmonary tuberculosis, and malaria, have been dealt using individualized prescribing. The major drawback of this method is the accuracy of the prescription, which can vary depending on the skill of the prescriber and the time factor as each case needs to be handled differently.
It requires prescription of common remedies for a specific disease together into one medication. could be a cost-effective way to treat people during an epidemic. A clinical trial in childhood diarrhea cases at Honduras was done using a combination remedy composed of Arsenicum album, Calcarea carbonica, Chamomilla, Podophyllum, and Sulphur. The results of the study showed no difference between those who received the homeopathic combination and those who were given a placebo.
A trial of a homeopathic combination remedy for dengue fever in Pakistan used combination of ten different remedies known to be indicated for symptoms of dengue fever with standard supportive therapy as recommended by the World Health Organization. The remedies used were Bryonia alba, Rhus toxicodendron, Gelsemium, Aconitum napellus, Eupatorium perfoliatum, China boliviana, Hamamelis, Citrullus colocynthis, Crotalus horridus, and Phosphorus. Supportive treatments used were acetaminophen (paracetamol), fluid replacement, and medications for nausea and vomiting. At the end of 6 days, there were statistically significant improvements in blood platelet levels, hematocrit, and white blood cell counts in the homeopathic combination group compared with supportive therapy.
This shows that though combination method is cost effective but matching the correct combination remedies with the epidemic being treated is difficult.
It is the remedy found to be most effective for a particular epidemic once data have been gathered from several cases. This concept was first put forth by Samuel Hahnemann in the Organon of Medicine, Aphorism 241, as "…each single epidemic is of a peculiar, uniform character common to all the individuals attacked, and when this character is found in the totality of the symptoms common to all, it guides us to the discovery of homoeopathic (specific) remedy suitable for all the cases…."
There is anecdotal evidence that homeopathy was successful during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919, in which at least 20 million people died worldwide. Using Gelsemium as Genus epidemicus the death rates for patients treated with homeopathy were 1 to 2% compared with a 30 to 60% mortality for those treated by conventional physicians. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial was done in India using Bryonia alba to prevent Chikungunya fever during an epidemic of this viral disease in 2007. Out of nearly 20,000 healthy individuals in each group, 12.8% of those receiving Bryonia developed the illness compared with 15.8% of those taking the placebo (p = 0.03). This translates into a relative risk reduction of nearly 20% in contracting Chikungunya.
Isopathy wherein remedies made from the actual cause of the illness, or from its byproducts is given to treat that same condition. It is somewhat similar to conventional vaccination, although the preparation is made in the homeopathic manner of potentization, with repeated dilutions and shaking (succussion) at each step.
One of the first experiments in isopathy took place in London and Glasgow during World War II, using potentized mustard gas as a preventative for chemical injury from mustard gas. Results of this experiment demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in deep skin lesions in those given mustard gas 30C prior to applying mustard gas to their skin compared with those receiving a placebo.
A striking example of the use of isopathy for disease prevention occurred in epidemic of leptospirosis in Cuba during an from 2007 to 2008. During a period of widespread flooding and increased incidence of leptospirosis in three provinces of Cuba in 2007, 97% of the entire population over 1 year of age was treated with a nosode that comprised four strains of inactivated Leptospira. Over a 5-week period, more than 2 million people received two oral doses of the 200C potency of this preparation. This was followed nearly a year later with two 10M doses of the same nosode. Disease surveillance statistics revealed an 84% decreased incidence of the disease in these provinces in 2008 compared with previous years, while the incidence of leptospirosis in the other, untreated, provinces of Cuba rose by 21.7%.
This shows that while individualization seems most effective but is impractical to use on a widespread basis. Combination remedies can be effective choosing the remedies is difficult. Treatment with genus epidemicus can also be successful if based on data from many practitioners. Finally, isopathy shows promise due to its similarity to vaccination but needs more research.
All the approaches need additional rigorous trials to enlarge the research base and to make homeopathy an attractive treatment alternative for epidemic diseases.