Dangers of Oscillococcinum

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Flu vaccine being administered
Flu vaccine being administered (Image: 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. Since the discovery of oscillococcinum in 1917, no studies have found any medical benefit to oscillococcinum, and using this product to treat influenza can have dire consequences.

History

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 Recommendation

Today, oscillococcinum is widely recommended by 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 minimizing symptoms. No medical or scientific studies, however, have shown 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. For people susceptible to complications from the flu, including very young and very old people and those with compromised immune systems, getting proper and effective medical treatment is necessary. Continued usage of an unproven and potentially ineffective homeopathic treatment is the greatest danger.

Scientific Studies

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 flu virus, additional studies indicated that ingestion of oscillococcinum shortened the flu cycle by 0.28 days, or 6 hours, total.

Summary

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.

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.

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