Naturopath defends use of rabies-infected saliva to treat boy

The Victoria naturopath who used rabies-infected saliva to treat a four-year-old boy says she will continue to prescribe the treatment as it poses no harm to her clients. 

“My job as naturopath and homeopath is to help the patient,” Anke Zimmermann, 56, told the Times Colonist on Friday. “My job is to find the correct remedy to help them. It could be anything. I never know what the person may need until I take their case.”

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In a Feb. 8 blog post that received wider attention this week, Zimmermann wrote of treating her young patient with a non-toxic remedy that included lyssin, a product said to be made from rabies. The boy had been bitten by a dog years earlier, and a popular course of treatment in the homeopathic world is to use lyssin to remedy health and behavioural problems associated with the vaccination for rabies.

She said in the blog post at drzimmermann.org — which was written with permission from the parents of the boy, but has since been removed — that her treatment of the boy was one of several successful clinical cases that treated aggression and behavioural problems with lyssin. Zimmermann’s patient had restless sleep habits, often growled at people, and was scared of werewolves. Lyssin, which is also known as lyssinum and hydrophobinum, has been used in similar cases as far back as 1833, she said.

Zimmermann’s actions have attracted the attention of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has asked Health Canada to review its approval of the product. Lyssin could potentially put patients at risk of contracting rabies, Henry said in a statement.

“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.

Health Canada said in a second 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.

Zimmermann said she purchased her lyssin from a pharmacy not located in Victoria. She did not disclose the name of the pharmacy.

The lyssin remedy is rendered safe by diluting the sterile substance “many hundreds of times” in a solution of water and alcohol, according to Zimmermann. “There is no live virus in it to begin with,” she said. “After you repeat this process 12 times, it’s impossible to even have one molecule of the original substance left in the solution.”

The B.C. Naturopathic Association nonetheless filed a complaint Thursday against Zimmermann with the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. over possible violations of the College’s code of conduct, code of ethics and related matters.

“We are concerned that certain statements and posts she has made, in person and online, appear to be contrary to the public interest in the practice of the profession — and therefore require action on the part of the regulator to intervene,” co-president Victor Chan of the B.C. Naturopathic Association said in a statement.

Zimmermann does not belong to the association, but said she’s a member in good standing of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia, the governing body for naturopathic physicians. Zimmermann said she completed three years of pre-medical studies in university and two years of basic science at naturopathic college to become a licensed naturopath. She has been a practising naturopath for 26 years.

“I’m not taking this personally,” she said. “There is a worldwide push by skeptics and organizations funded by pharmaceutical companies to eliminate homeopathy. This is nothing new.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

— With files from Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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