Ducking the flu
    By Becky Jungbauer | January 27th 2009 10:24 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Becky

    A scientist and journalist by training, I enjoy all things science, especially science-related humor. My column title is a throwback to Jane


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    Has anyone else had that cold that lasts about three or four weeks? It's going around out here and I'm finally starting to get over it. Too bad I didn't know about the wonder flu cure Oscillococcinum, or as everyone chatting online about herbal remedies likes to mispell it, occicillium.

    What is Oscillococcinum, you ask? As one completely uniformed consumer opined, "Basically Occicillium is some kind of antibiotic, or something like that, in a granular form." Wrong, my easily-duped e-friend.

    Marketed by Boiron as Oscillo, the homeopathic remedy is held up alongside Airborne and other supplements to cure the flu or cold. First of all, you can't cure the flu or cold!! You can treat the symptoms. If people actually took the time to read the box or the Web site, they'd see that all Boiron claims it can do is "reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms."

    And what is in Oscillo? Antibiotics or vitamins of some sort? Nope. Extract of Muscovy Duck liver and heart.

    I do take slight issue with the wording on the site - although technically correct, I think they prey on unsuspecting consumers. Perhaps not intentionally, but still...

    As soon as you start feeling run-down or have other flu-like symptoms, take Oscillococcinum. Oscillo is regulated as a drug by the FDA and is supported by published clinical studies as well as more than 65 years of use throughout the world.

    Yes, Oscillo is regulated by FDA - regulated because it falls under the category of food, drug or cosmetic. But FDA bears no responsiblity for approving it - it's an over-the-counter drug, which has vastly different standards and regulations and oversight. The agency doesn't regulate vitamins or Airborne the way it regulates prescription heart medication. So to bring in FDA and clinical studies - with no mention of the rigor of study - is to imply (in my opinion) that this drug has been deemed safe and is on par with the scrutinized prescriptions in your cabinet. Again, technically their wording is accurate but I still think you can be truthful while misleading people.

    Then again, if Denis Leary, Morgan Fairchild, Dan Castellanetta, Jane Krakowski, Alan Tudyk, Tara Summers and a trio from the Sopranos (Jeff Marchetti, Carl Capotorto and Matt Servitto) swear by it, well then it's good enough for me.

    In "real" science news, an article in PNAS this week describes a sphingosine analogue, AAL-R, that helped mitigate the cytokine response when administered directly into the lungs of mice infected with the flu virus.


    You forgot that, because it is a homeopathic remedy, the entire world's supply comes from one duck, making it easily the world's most valuable duck.
    Becky Jungbauer
    I wouldn't want to run afowl of the facts. But I'm not sure this drug is all it's quacked up to be.
    Historical Facts Believed To Be Associated With Influenza:

    The last influenza pandemic that occurred in the United States was nearly 100 years ago, and this deadly outbreak resulted in about 50 million deaths worldwide. The pandemic that occurred before this one happened about thirty years before the 1918 flu. Influenza epidemics typically occur about every 8 months or so. Influenza is caused by a virus, which is a parasite that needs a host to survive and reproduce.
    It was called the Spanish Flu because the first human case was identified there. The pandemic ended up killing more than those that died during WWI. Understandably there was panic among people worldwide, as influenza was not discovered until 1933, so the mystery was rather frightening of what was happening.
    Those who survived have allowed others to obtain antibodies from them to develop other antibodies for future viral outbreaks that may occur with this type of virus. This last influenza pandemic also allowed others to obtain this virus from those who died as a result to facilitate effective treatments and vaccines for viral outbreaks that may happen in the future as well.
    The virus responsible for the 1918 pandemic was an avian influenza. Nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. died as the result of the Spanish Flu- and those that did die was due often to a bacterial pneumonia that followed the viral invasion and damage. Ultimately, this pandemic killed nearly 3 percent of humans infected. Normally, an influenza strain may kill less than one percent of those infected. The Spanish Flu caused an unusually severe immune response in the human host which made it very deadly due to overkill of the cells of this host.
    The influenza viruses are categorized as A, B, and C. The Influenza A virus is the one that historically has caused pandemics that have developed-, such as the Spanish Flu Pandemic. The other influenza pandemics primarily have occurred in countries in Asia.
    With influenza, it is understood that the disease influenza is a disease caused by a RNA virus that can infect both mammals and birds. In fact, this particular virus can mutate to where it can be shared between the two life forms and multiply within each one of them. Unlike coryza, influenza expresses symptoms more severely, and usually lasts two weeks until one recovers who has the flu. Influenza, however, poses a danger to some with compromised immune systems, such as the chronically ill, so the recommendation is greater in such populations, along with women who may be pregnant during the flu season, residents of nursing homes or chronic care facilities. Health care personnel are encouraged to get the flu vaccine as well. Such populations allow influenza to progress to deadly pneumonia.
    Symptoms of influenza usually start to express themselves symptomatically about two days or so after being infected with the virus. Over 10 percent of the population is infected with this virus every year- resulting in about 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 40,000 deaths. This season’s first influenza case was identified in Delaware in November of 2008, and it was a type B influenza strain.

    The flu vaccination is trivalent- meaning it contains three viral strains of suspected viruses for flu outbreaks during a particular winter season, as determined by the World Health Organization, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, and other organizations. Unfortunately, the influenza vaccine administered last flu season was largely ineffective due to unsuspected strains of the virus infecting others, although about 140 million injections of this vaccine were administered.
    After giving the vaccination dose to one, it takes about 10 days for that person to build up the immunity for the disease of influenza. The months of October to December are recommended to receive this vaccine. And the vaccine is about 50 percent effective in offering protection from influenza, according to others. Vaccines are a catalyst for antibody production in humans, which protect them against the virus. Influenza vaccines can be given by injection or nasally.
    Anti-virals, on the other hand, decrease greatly the ability for viruses to reproduce once established in a human.
    The Avian influenza that many have heard of is potentially the next flu pandemic- as humans have no immunity to what is called the H5N1 virus- on of about 1 strains of avian Influenza. For an Influenza pandemic to occur, which means a global disease existence, the virus must emerge from another species to humans without immunity, as well as the ability to make more humans ill than normal. Also, the virus must be highly contagious for a pandemic to occur. The H5N1 virus appears to replicate in the human GI tract and also has a longer incubation period in humans, one to two weeks, compared with other influenza strains. The H5N1 Avian influenza virus seems to have become progressively more pathogenic in the past decade, according to others.
    With the Avian Influenza existing with the H5N1 strain, millions of birds have been slaughtered due to the danger and unpredictability of this strain. The first human case infected with this strain occurred in China in 1997. The first human avian flu case outside of China was identified in 2003 in the Netherlands. The first recorded incidence of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus was in Thailand in 2004. In 2006, it was discovered that the H5N1 had split into two separate strains. There have been outbreaks of Avian flu in about 15 countries in the world so far- with Indonesia being the worst. Migratory birds spread this influenza virus between continents.
    The pathogenic strength of the H5N1 strain varies due to constant re-assortment or switching of genetic material between the viruses- essentially creating a hybrid of what it was before this occurs. So far, about 300 people worldwide have been infected with this strain- and about half have died from the infection. Vaccinations are being developed and reformulated constantly at this time due to the pandemic threat of the H5N1 Influenza virus.
    Yet, the normal flu season that is now occurring was supplied with 150 million vaccines in the United States. However, some studies have shown that this vaccine is rather ineffective based on incidences of the acquisition of the influenza virus by others anyway.
    The influenza season peaks between the months of January and March. The vaccine for this influenza season is manufactured by 6 different companies. Yet the strains chosen are speculated influenza viruses, as this does not eliminate the chance of a new and dominant influenza viral strain that possibly could cause a pandemic. It takes manufacturers about 6 months to make and formulate the influenza vaccination. There is a vaccine for this illness that is produced every year according to which type of virus may be prevalent during a particular flu season. If influenza occurs in a human host, the results may be the patient acquiring pneumonia or meningitis.
    The presence of influenza can be widespread in certain states, yet not others. The vaccination is recommended to be administered to those who are at high risk, such as the chronically ill. Also, it is recommended that those under 18 years of age get the vaccine, as well as those people over the age of 50. Furthermore, those people who regularly take aspirin should receive the vaccine, as the influenza disease can become a catalyst for what is called Reye’s Syndrome. Pregnant women should receive the vaccine as well- as there are many other vaccines available to fortunately prevent other diseases, perhaps.
    Dan Abshear