Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of El Alvi
Oscillococcinum is a commonly recommended homeopathic treatment for the prevention of flu symptoms, manufactured by Boiron and available over-the-counter. With the H1N1 viral infection worries, oscillococcinum has re-emerged as a possible solution and treatment for the flu. Since the discovery of oscillococcinum in 1917, there have been no studies indicating that there is any medical benefit to oscillococcinum, and using this product to treat influenza can have dire consequences.
A French physician named James Roy discovered oscillococcinum during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1917. Although it is unclear which bacteria he spotted, he found this particular bacteria to be present in a variety of patients, including cancer patients. With duck liver and hearts known to store the influenza virus, he created oscillococcinum based on the theory, "let like be cured by like."
At the time, he believed this to be the cure of syphilis, influenza, scabies and even cancer. Through dilution and what is known as the "Korsakov potentisation," oscillococcinum became accepted by the homeopathic community as the potential cure for a variety of ailments with no potential side effects.
Danger of Oscillococcinum
Oscillococcinum in itself is not believed to be dangerous at all. In fact, the method in which oscillococcinum is manufactured makes it nearly impossible to have any effect at all, good or bad. The extract is shaken in a test tube and poured out, and hydroalcoholic solution is added, and again, poured out. This process is repeated 200 times, and the result is oscillococcinum. The efficacy of the active ingredient in oscillococcinum, Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK HPUS, is doubted; but with this specific preparation method, there is virtually no remnant of this active ingredient to present any significant danger to those who take oscillococcinum.
Danger in Recommnedation
Today, oscillococcinum is widely recommended by the homeopathic practitioners for treating all symptoms of the flu. It is usually recommended to ingest at the start of any symptoms, but is believed to be effective in shortening the length of any flu, and minimising symptoms. Medical and scientific studies, however, have failed to show any effect of oscillococcinum in preventing or treating flu-like symptoms.
The greatest danger that oscillococcinum presents is having people who potentially have the flu rely on solely oscillococcinum to treat their illness. Especially with the epidemic of the H1N1 looming, getting proper and effective medical treatment is necessary. Continued usage of an unproven and potentially ineffective homeopathic treatment is the greatest danger.
The Cochrane Collaboration released studies indicating that oscillococcinum had absolutely no effect in the prevention of influenza or influenza-like symptoms. Furthermore, as it is popularly believed that oscillococcinum decreases the life cycle of the flue virus, additional studies indicated that ingestion of oscillococcinum shortened the flu cycle by 0.28 days, or 6 hours, total.
A 2008 search of Lexis Nexis has shown no pending lawsuits regarding oscillococcinum. It can be inferred, then, that there have been no deaths or serious consequences associated with the ingestion of this homeopathic medication, to date. While the dangers of taking oscillococcinum seem minimal, if any exist at all, the lack of documented efficacy makes oscillococcinum an unacceptable treatment for influenza.
There are no known dangers associated with ingesting oscillococcinum; but there are also no known benefits aside from possible placebo effects on patients who believe in the efficacy of this homeopathic treatment.
It should be noted that the CDC does not list oscillococcinum as one of the recommendations in preventing or treating the H1N1 virus. To date, the use of oscillococcinum is not medically recommended, and does not replace medications such as oseltamivir and zanamivir, known to treat flu symptoms.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of El Alvi