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Stocking up on Fish Mox: a Systematic Analysis of Cultural Narratives about Self-medicating in Online Forums

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, USA

Special Issues: Cultural Narratives in Health

This study is a systematic review of cultural narratives that drive American belief in the value and efficacy of stocking up on fish antibiotics for human consumption. Popularized by “doomsday prepper” forums and survivalist medical professionals’ online videos, this narrative suggests that in some scenarios humans may benefit from such treatments—even as they note its contraindication to mainstream public health advice. Discussions in crowd-sourcing forums however, reveal that in practice Americans are using them as a form of home remedy to treat routine infections without missing work or to make up for gaps in insurance coverage. This article argues for greater attention to what makes it plausible and reasonable to treat human conditions with animal medications. It suggests that public health initiatives should address such decisions as emerging from a rational analysis of social and economic conditions rather than dismissing such practices as dangerous to population and individual health outcomes. As social scientists of medicine have long argued, collective narratives about health and medicine illustrate deeply the broader contexts in which communities understand and experience bodily state and shape how communities interact with public health institutions and respond to medical expertise. This study surveys online discussions about “fish mox” to show how participants contest medical expertise and promote a more distributed form of populist expertise. As such, consuming fish mox is both panacea for health inequality and a critique of health institutions for perpetrating such stratification.
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