Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes

Authors

  • AJ Vickers,

    Assistant Attending Research Methodologist, Corresponding author
    1. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Integrative Medicine, New York, New York, USA
    • AJ Vickers, Assistant Attending Research Methodologist, Integrative Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, New York, New York, 10021, USA. vickersa@mskcc.org.

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  • C Smith


Abstract

Background

Influenza is a highly infectious viral disease that is particularly common in the winter months. Conventional management options are limited to bed rest and treatment of complications such as secondary bacterial infections. 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'. The medicine is manufactured from wild duck heart and liver, a well-known reservoir for influenza viruses.

Objectives

To determine whether homoeopathic Oscillococcinum or similar medicines are more effective than placebo in the prevention and treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes.

Search strategy

The registry of randomised trials for the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field was searched in February 2001, using the term "homeopathy" with "influenza", "respiratory tract", "infection", "cough", "virus" and "fever". The manufacturers of Oscillococcinum were contacted for information about other trials. The Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group's Register of Trials was also searched in March 2001, and no new trials were found.

Selection criteria

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 reviewers extracted data and assessed methodological quality independently.

Main results

Seven studies were included in the review, three prevention trials (n=2265) and four treatment trials (n=1194). Only for two studies was there sufficient information to complete data extraction fully. There was no evidence that homoeopathic treatment can prevent influenza-like syndrome (relative risk 0.64, 95% confidence interval 0.28 to 1.43). Oscillococcinum treatment reduced length of influenza illness by 0.28 days (95% confidence interval 0.50 to 0.06). Oscillococcinum also increased the chance of a patient considering treatment effective (relative risk 1.08; 95% CI 1.17, 1).

Reviewer's conclusions

Oscillococcinum probably reduces the duration of illness in patients presenting with influenza symptoms. Though promising, the data are not strong enough to make a general recommendation to use Oscillococcinum for first-line treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndrome. Further research is warranted but required sample sizes are large. Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of homeopathy in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.

Plain language summary

Synopsis

Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum does not prevent influenza, but probably shortens the length of the illness

Influenza (the flu) is a highly infectious disease caused by viruses. Other than treatments for complications (such as pneumonia), conventional medical treatment is bed rest. Homeopathy is a system based on "curing like with like", often using highly diluted substances. Oscillococcinum is a homoeopathic preparation manufactured from wild duck heart and liver (common sources of influenza). Oscillococcinum can be taken regularly over the winter months to prevent flu, or as a treatment. The review found that trials do not show that it can prevent flu. Taking it once you have flu probably shortens the illness, but more research is needed.