Influenza is a highly infectious viral disease that is particularly common in the winter months. Oscillococcinum is a patented, commercially available homoeopathic medicine. The rationale for its use in influenza comes from the homoeopathic principle of 'let like be cured by like'. This medicine is manufactured from wild duck heart and liver, which are said to be reservoirs for influenza viruses.
To determine whether homoeopathic Oscillococcinum or similar medicines are more effective than placebo in the prevention and treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes.
We updated the electronic searches on the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2006); MEDLINE (January 1966 to February 2006) and EMBASE (1980 to February 2006). The manufacturers of Oscillococcinum were contacted for information.
Placebo-controlled trials of Oscillococcinum or homeopathically-prepared influenza virus, influenza vaccine or avian liver in the prevention and treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes.
Data collection and analysis
Two authors extracted data and assessed methodological quality independently.
Seven studies were included in the review, three prevention trials (number of participants (n) = 2265) and four treatment trials (n = 1194). Only two studies reported sufficient information to complete data extraction fully. There was no evidence that homoeopathic treatment can prevent influenza-like syndrome (relative risk (RR) 0.64, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.28 to 1.43). Oscillococcinum treatment reduced the length of influenza illness by 0.28 days (95% CI 0.50 to 0.06). Oscillococcinum also increased the chances that a patient considered treatment to be effective (RR 1.08; 95% CI 1.17 to 1.00).
Though promising, the data were not strong enough to make a general recommendation to use Oscillococcinum for first-line treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Further research is warranted but the required sample sizes are large. Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.