Oscillococcinum: A Homeopathic Alternative for Flu?
Given the recent news that this year's influenza vaccine has low effectiveness against circulating influenza A (H3N2) viruses, patients may be looking for alternatives to help combat the flu. Oscillococcinum is an over-the-counter homeopathic medicine that is often used during the winter months to prevent flu and treat flu symptoms. It is produced from wild duck heart and liver, which are believed to be reservoirs of flu viruses. In an article published in the Cochrane Library, researchers performed a literature search to find clinical trials where Oscillococcinum was used for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like illness to see whether the evidence supports the use of this homeopathic remedy in adults and children.
A total of six studies were included in the analysis – four treatment trials involving 1,196 participants and two prophylaxis trials involving 327 participants. The primary outcome for the treatment studies was patient-reported absence of flu symptoms at 48 hours while occurrence of influenza (either symptomatic or lab-confirmed) was the measure for the prophylaxis trials. Secondary outcomes also included an assessment of adverse events.
No statistically significant difference was seen between Oscillococcinum and placebo with regards to preventing flu-like illness (risk ratio: 0.48). In addition, given the unclear risk of bias in these trials, the authors note that further prophylaxis research, including adverse events assessment, is warranted.
With regards to treatment, Oscillococcinum had a statistically significant effect (patient-reported) on flu and flu-like illness compared to placebo in the first two days, with a risk ration of 1.86, and an absolute risk reduction of 7.7% in frequency of symptom relief at 48 hours. However, this effect dwindled to statistical non-significance 4–5 days after treatment was initiated. Chills, fever, backache, spinal and muscle pain, general aches, articular pain and day cough were the symptoms most responsive to treatment at 48 hours.
While there was no evidence to say that Oscillococcinum use was harmful to patients, there was also very little compelling evidence available to say that it was beneficial in treating or preventing flu or flu-like illness. Given the risk of bias in these studies, these findings must be viewed with caution and the possibility that Oscillococcinum may be clinically useful cannot be ruled out.