The Jokes on you
Flu season 2019 is upon us. Trust me, you don’t want to get the flu. By that I mean the Flu, influenza virus, i.e. the real flu, not simply a winter cold. The flu is a cold on steroids. It is to a cold what King Kong is to a gorilla. It can kill you. I have had the flu. There were moments when death almost seemed preferable to the misery of high fever, pounding headache, every muscle aching, even your skin painful.
I believe in vaccinations. Are they perfect? No. Can they cause side effects? Yes. Are they 100% effective? No. Do they work? A resounding yes. I get my flu vaccine every year. Everyone should, especially health care workers and those working around more vulnerable populations, such as children, elderly, and the sick.
If you experience the onset of flu-like symptoms- fever, chills, achy muscle, headache, cough- oseltamivir (Tamiflu) has been shown to be effective in reducing the severity of symptoms and cutting down the duration of the flu by 1-2 days. It should ideally be started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. If taken after 48 hours of onset of symptoms, it won’t do much good.
Among over-the-counter formulations for flu, arguably the king of the hill is Oscillococcinum, or Oscillo, with $18 million in sales in 2008, the last year for which I could find figures. It is the No. 1 over-the-counter drug for flu in Europe. This is a medication manufactured by the French company, Boiron. Like Oseltamivir, Oscillo claims to reduce “the severity and duration of flu-like symptoms”. That is where all similarity ends. Read on and laugh (or not) with me.
The first part of the joke that is Oscillo is in the name. It comes from oscillococcus, a bacterium “discovered” in 1925 by a French physician, Joseph Roy. He examined blood from victims of the Spanish Flu of 1917 and saw “oscillating” bacteria, to which he attributed the flu, as well as other diseases later proved to be viral. The joke is that oscillococcus doesn’t exist. Never did. It is a made up bug. https://www.homeowatch.org/history/oscillo.html
How did an imaginary bacterium came to be used to treat the flu? Roy proposed that his bacterium caused a host of conditions in addition to the flu, including cancer, scabies, syphilis, and tuberculosis. For reasons that are unknown, he chose as his source of oscillococcus for his medication, the heart and liver of Muscovy ducks. In a coincidence that could make you believe the universe has a sense of humor, it turns out the reservoir for Avian (bird) influenza A is largely in wild ducks. You just can’t make this stuff up. As they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. Could it be that Roy inadvertently stumbled onto a treatment for flu, somewhat like Fleming’s discovery of penicillin?
The punch line of this medical joke came when homeopathy entered the picture. Never ones to let facts or science stand in their way, practitioners of homeopathy continue to cling to the delusional ideas of their founder, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, in 1796. Yes, you read that right. 1796. Hahnemann’s two key concepts were that “like cures like” and the law of “minimum dose”. The first means that to cure an illness, you administer something that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. To cure a fever, you give something that would make a healthy person feverish. To treat abdominal pain, you use something that causes abdominal pain. And, so on. “Like cures like” has never been proven and there is zero scientific support for it. Period.
The second is the law of minimum dilution, i.e. the more dilute a medicine, the stronger it is. Minimum dilution would be funny if people did not take it seriously. Homeopathic medications are formulated based on a system of dilution. A 1C dilution means that the medicine is diluted 100 times. To make a 2C dilution, you take that final product and dilute another 100 times, and so on. By the time you get to a 13C dilution, this would be equivalent to one drop of a substance in all the water on earth. Boiron’s Oscillococcinum is diluted to 200C. This would equate to one molecule in the known universe! In simple, chemical terms, Oscillo is plain water.
Homeopaths get around the fact that their medicine contains not a single molecule of the original substance by claiming that the water retains a “memory” of the substance. I don’t have adjectives suitable to do justice to how ridiculous this is. If you believe this, you will believe anything.
How does a medication based on an imaginary germ, diluted to the point where not a single molecule of the original preparation remains become a popular medication to treat the flu over, not years, but decades? Even more remarkable is that several reviews that I pulled up gave it 5 out of 5 stars! There is no explanation other than the triumph of faith over reason or perhaps the power of placebo. It has to one of the greatest jokes played on the public in medical history, a real thigh slapper. At $1 per pill, Oscillo’s Boiron must be laughing all the way to the bank.