If it Quacks Like a Duck — Oscillococcinum

It’s perhaps the most amazing drug on CVS’ shelves today:  It features:

  • No side effects
  • No drug interactions
  • No active ingredients

That’s right.  No active ingredients.  Read on to see if Oscillococcinum might be right for you!

Oscillococcinum thumbnail

Oscillococcinum, a drug with no active ingredients. (See footnotes for image credit.)

Oscillococcinum was a drug originally made from the non-existent oscillococcinum bacterium (wink wink nudge nudge) and marketed as a cure for the flu.  This is curious, as the flu is viral, not bacterial, in nature.

Now made from duck parts that don’t exist — perfect for a quack cure — Oscillococcinum is homeopathic.  One of the features of many homeopathic medicines is that they are repeatedly diluted during production.  Oscillococcinum is typical:  the dilution is so extreme that there’s no original product left in the box when it goes out the door.

CVS-branded oscillococcinum

CVS-branded oscillococcinum. Get your sugar cheaper! (click to enlarge image.)

The dilution factor for CVS’ duck-based medicine is “200C”.  In homeopathy, “200C” means that:

  1. The original product is diluted with water to 1/100th the original concentration
  2. A small sample of the dilution is set aside
  3. That 1/100th sample is taken, diluted with water, and the process is repeated for a total of 200 iterations

As is the case with any homeopathic medicine diluted to such extremes, the odds of receiving any end product (in this case, duck) are so astronomical they border on impossible.

But would you actually want the duck?

A quick look at the CVS product info sheet tells us that Oscillococcinum:

“is made from tissue that might be infected with flu—ducks, which are known to carry influenza”

Wait.  What’s happening here?  Is CVS selling me an infected bird?  That’s freaky scary.  When I get the flu shot, at least I know the virus in the shot is dead.

Or, is CVS selling me pure water & sugar… a product from which all the duck has been removed?  Back to the product info sheet:

“Oscillococcinum is of 200c potency, meaning that it is diluted to one part in 10 400 (a dilution so high that even if you started with a chunk of duck the size of the sun, not one molecule would remain).”1

Wow.  Balls the size of… (!)

The imaginary active ingredient has been completely removed from this product, and CVS doesn’t even try to hide it:  they brag about it!

If you’re a CVS customer paying for this stuff, you’re paying for filler product.  Water and sugar.  Actually, it’s questionable whether or not you’re even getting any water.  The ingredients list only shows sugar.  What you’re definitely not getting is duck.  (For that reason, we’ll leave the dangers of ingesting a disease-laden bird for another article.)

Oscillococcinum gets a special mention in Jean-Marie Abgrall’s “Healing or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age”.2  The drug was invented in 1919 when a Frenchman noticed an “oscillating” condition in flu patients and a corresponding “oscillating” amount of an imaginary germ he decided to call “oscillococcus”.  The only problem was, he thought he noticed the same microbe in herpes, chicken pox, shingles, and cancer patients — and decided all the diseases were caused by the same thing.  Mon dieu!8

The Frenchman tested a vaccine he developed on his cancer patients who, of course, died.  Afraid of being infected by his patients, the doctor went in search of his oscilloccinum bacterium in the wild.  He claims to have found it in a duck.  I’m not making this [expletive deleted] up.  No one else has ever seen oscilloccinum.  It doesn’t really exist.  But this hasn’t stopped snake… erm…  duck oil salesmen from cashing in.

oscillococcinum contains no active ingredients

Oscillococcinum isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.  It contain no active ingredient(s)! (Photo by the author)

Manufactured by the French company Boiron, Oscillococcinum has been singled out for deceptive marketing in the United States.  In June 2010, Homeopathy for Health, a Washington vendor, was cited by the FDA for a slew of violations, including marketing Oscillococcinum as a treatment for H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) and “relief of flu symptoms”.3 Although the CVS literature lists one late 1980s study with marginal results touting Oscillococcinum efficacy,2 no other studies back the CVS claims.  This is not surprising.  If you only have one study to back you up, take that study, trumpet it loudly, and hope nobody notices.

When sugar pills are shown to stop the flu virus, let’s all meet in the bakery aisle of the supermarket when we get sick, and skip the trip to the doctor.

As I write this, CVS is actively removing protests regarding Oscillococcinum sales from its Facebook page.  These posts, to the best of my knowledge, truthfully inform consumers that the product contains no active ingredients, has never been shown to be of any help in combating the flu, and, in fact, could be dangerous: influenza is a serious disease and can be deadly.5, 6

CVS places homeopathic medicines next to real medicines on their shelves (with similar packaging) with no consumer warnings, making it difficult for a trusting public to know what they’re buying.  When a pharmacy dispenses real medicine and real flu vaccines along with sugar pills without any cautionary text, it’s a problem.  Skipping real treatment in favor of Oscillococcinum could do real harm.

A “drug” made from sugar and non-existent duck parts?  A company that takes pride in its public health outreach programs4 should be ashamed of itself for this quackery — no pun intended.  I hope readers will take a moment to go the CVS Facebook page7 and express their unhappiness.  As consumers, we deserve better.

Postscript (18 December 2014)  Alert readers have pointed out that CVS is not the only vendor selling this fake medicine.  Indeed, since writing this article, I’ve found it online at Amazon and Drugstore.com.  It’s reportedly been seen on the shelves of Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid–though I haven’t witnessed that myself.  I’ll be writing follow-up articles to cover this.  No matter where you find it–if you find it–please encourage sellers of oscillococcinum to remove this useless product from their shelves.

References

(1)  CVS: Influenza: Studied Homeopathic Remedies
http://health.cvs.com/GetContent.aspx?token=f75979d3-9c7c-4b16-af56-3e122a3f19e3..&chunkiid=38325#scientific

(2) Healing Or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age
Healing Or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age. pp. 40–41. ISBN 1-892941-51-1

(3) FDA Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations: Warning Letter
http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm215236.htm

(4) CVS stops selling tobacco, offers quit-smoking programs
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/03/cvs-steps-selling-tobacco-changes-name/14967821/

(5) CDC Fast Stats: Influenza
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/flu.htm

(6) Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm

(7) CVS (Facebook)
https://www.facebook.com/CVS

(8) Mon Dieu! (My God!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0oMQu2id6I

 

Legal Stuff

CVS Oscillococcinum product image used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Duck image by the author.  Copyright (c) 2014 Mark Aaron Alsip.  All rights reserved.

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45 thoughts on “If it Quacks Like a Duck — Oscillococcinum

  1. (Just playing devil’s advocate here) – what do you make of the 1989/France study mentioned in the first CVS link? Is there some obvious flaw they’re glazing over or was it just blatantly fraudulent?

    Like

  2. Before dismissing this medicine you should have an understanding and knowledge about how homeopathic medicine works. No homeopathic medicine has “active ingredients” as far as what the FDA defines as active ingredients. It’s based on quantum physics and the evidence that “like cures like”. The aspect of homeopathy that is implausible for many people is that the medicines are often – though not always – diluted to the point where there may be no molecules of original substance left. One of the leading current proposals for how such ‘ultramolecular’ dilutions work is that water is capable of storing information relating to substances with which it has previously been in contact”. The “energy signature” of that substance, although intangible is in fact very active and very effective. I have used Occillococcinum for years with great success. I have given it to my family member and recommended it to friends, and they too have had great success. No one in my family takes the flu shot anymore because of how effective Occocillococcinum is. If taken at the very onset of symptoms, the symptoms and sickness are gone completely within a couple of hours. If it (the flu) has already taken a hold of you for a couple of days before you take the medicine, then it will take two or three doses and about a day to a day and a half for it to eradicate the flu. I have found that it also works well with other virus’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I think the biggest, obvious failure for Occocillococcinum and “like cures like” is that nobody has ever tested any of the ducks that go into it to see if they are positive for the flu virus. If you don’t know the duck had the virus, how can you claim it was “like” the virus in your body?

      I dismiss homeopathy based on a fairly deep knowledge of the water molecule based on 6 years of university study and, more importantly, the ability to read and understand literature written by experts who understand it at a level even deeper than I do. No evidence has ever been produced for homeopathy’s claim of “imprinting” on molecules.

      The latest figures I can find for flu deaths are from 2011, when an estimated 54,000 people died. The flu vaccine is safe, effective, and protects not only the person receiving it, but provides “herd immunity” to the general population.

      http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

      Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, wow, wow …. there are 6 families of BS in the universe, and this defense of homeopathy successfully deploys every one of them. Family 1) Complete and Utter BS: “like cures like”. If you swallow a bottle of bleach, you will not be cured by swallowing another bottle of bleach. I do not imply that homeopathy advocates this specific cure, but clearly the “like cures like” aspect of the philosophy only applies to those likes that do cure likes, whereas the likes that worsten likes, like entire bottles of bleach, are not like that. In other words, it is not a principle at all, it is Complete and Utter BS. Family 2) Nonsense: Ultramolecular Dilution. Water Memory. Energy Signature. Umm, ya, if you make up words they can support any argument you want, in that you made them up to definitively do so. If I say that all homeopaths suffer from suprarespective exdeceptivity, and therefore they are all full of sh*t, you cannot argue with me, because that phrase means precisely that all homeopaths are full of sh*t. Nonsense. And true. Actual science also invents new names for things, but only after they are shown to be actual things. Homeopathy attempts to create reality by filling the world with invented terms. Family 3) False Witness: Homeopathy is based on quantum physics. Nobody who understands quantum physics would waste their time arguing with an idiot like you, so you can lean on their science as much as you want and nobody will ever push back. But let’s just face it … you don’t know a single thing about quantum physics, and homeopathy is not based on it in any way whatsoever. I think what you mean to say is that homeopathy borrows an undeserved legitimacy from quantum physics because quantum physics uses statistics and uncertainty to provide a mathematical description of the way the world behaves, accessible only to those who understand the advanced mathematical and scientific concepts, and homeopathy uses statistics and uncertainty to obfuscate its utter nonsense in a way that borrows the aura of actual science and is accessible to nobody. But quantum physics takes real observations and attempts to explain them mathematically. Homeopathy takes real math and uses it to obscure a complete absence of any observations. Family 4) Irrefutability: “intangible yet effective” … .IE, you can’t see it, smell it, or touch it …. it is impossible for you to distinguish between its existence or non-existence. But it is effective. This comes down to blind faith. If the effect occurs (someone gets better) you just have to believe that the homepathic cure caused it. Because being intangible, there is no way other than blind faith for you to make that association. It is irrefutable. Family 5) Author’s Testimony: Author followed BS procedure, author didn’t die, therefore BS procedure cured whatever author wants it to have cured, and therefore it will also do so for all other people in all circumstances. Guess what, I also get flu-like symptoms from time to time, and you know what I do? I scratch my scrotum with a Mercedes Benz hood ornament stolen by a one-legged street urchin, and I almost always feel better two hours later. If you adopt my approach, I will adopt yours. Just because you believe something works and you haven’t died yet does not mean it works. Certainly nobody who has ever died by relying on your BS cures will be around to employ Author’s Testimony against you. Family 6) I’m waiting. You only used 5 families in this comment, but I’m sure you have more.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow…. They must be paying you by the ‘shillions’ ? Sounds like a case of ‘Big Placebo’ working its Woooo….. I don’t feel that homeopathy is all its qwacked up to be….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sara. the “like cures like” philosophy is not used in vaccinations. The only philosophy relied upon in the development of vaccinations is that the scientific method is the only legitimate means to validate new knowledge and understanding. Beyond that philosophy has nothing to do with it. Vaccinations thus rely on an actual understanding of human biology, actual knowledge of how inoculation works, actual experiments, actual learning and knowledge. It relies on the rejection of any idea found to be false through all this process, regardless of what philosophy or other spark of creativity led to the idea. The fact that some real medical remedies have something in common with the disease they cure does not validate this baseless foundation of homeopathy.

        Like

  3. If the “Energy signature” is intangible as you say, how do you know it is this which is “effective”?
    You are using a logical fallacy to support your claim, “I got sick, I used it, I got better”. How do you know it was influenza? How do you know it wasn’t a mild cold?
    Lastly, what is this evidence you speak of that “like cures like”? Reliable and peer-reviewed citations would be wonderful.

    Like

  4. If a water molecule can be so imprinted with information by a duck molecule that the water can convey an immunization message to a human body even after complete eradication of actual duck in the water …… are there numbers large enough to convey how much BS is conveyed to homeopathic patients by the BS molecules transferred from their carers through the water’s memory? And is the water capable of forgetting or are all the seas of the earth filled to saturation with the energy memory of homeopathic BS molecules?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmmmm…. if “like cures like”…… does that mean if I shoot a homeopath in the head…
    then YOU can shoot him again, in the same place, and he’s cured?

    Now, must it be the same gun, or at least the same model in the same caliber, or will any gun in the same caliber work…. or will any gun in any caliber suffice?

    Any homeopaths willing to sign a shitload of waivers and participate in some clinical trials?
    And who gets to be the “control subjects” who get no second “healing” shot?

    Like

  6. You completely lost my attention when you said, “When I get the flu shot”.

    How can you be so logical about this quack remedy but support the flu shot? Why is it so difficult for people to understand the difference between a life saving vaccine for the mumps or polio yet not see the damage the atrocious flu shot does to your immune system? Next time you feel the urge to follow perfectly healthy, brainless twits into Walgreens for their annual injection of damaging chemicals that have been proven to increase your chances of getting the flu and becoming dependent on Big Pharma’s whims, eat a freaking banana instead, followed by an orange and then an apple. Stop being a sheep, allow yourself to get sick, and build up your own immune system. I am not in any way an anti-vaxxer but the flu shot is a joke that the pharmaceutical companies take straight to the bank while only you suffer the consequences.

    Note: If someone is deathly ill from the flu, or already has health issues, then flu remedies may be required, but for healthy people to subject their healthy system to a flu shot is ridiculously ignorant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry, but flu vaccines for someone already suffering symptoms is a little too little, a little too late. Suggesting such hints at a sub-par understanding of why the flu vaccine is given and how it works. Giving it AFTER an infection would be meaningless.

      Your statement about giving damaging chemicals to health people via the shots… do you have any peer reviewed studies to back this up? I have plenty to show that’s not the case, s I as just asking. Getting yourself sick to build up your own immune system is a very poor idea. You’re gambling you’ll be able to recover. Many lose. Bananas, Oranges, and Apples, cannot cure diseases, and if you believe they do, we may not have common ground for discussion..

      Liked by 1 person

      • I said flu remedies for the already sick (see a doctor). I did not say give flu shots for the already sick. I did not say get sick. I said allow the common flu to work its way out of your body, like a cold. Proper care, enough liquids, giving it a few days …It’s a common flu, not a disease, and not an epidemic.I also did not say bananas would cure diseases. I said they could prevent the flu in healthy people. Eat right will prevent colds and flues. Polio? Go get a shot. Not that hard to understand if you read what I said. Go find your own studies.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Influenza kills tens of thousands of people each year. It’s most definitely a disease–a serious and highly infectious one. A basic understanding of the virus behind the disease should be enough to let you know that eating a banana will not help you in any way, either before or after, but I am always open to new information. That’s why I ask for studies.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that homeopathic quackery should not be sold, especially in a pharmacy. Your article, however, seems to imply that this is a CVS product. The same product is sold at Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart pharmacy department, drugstore.com, and many other pharmacies and retail stores. Please encourage your readers to ask all of those companies to stop selling this crap.

    Like

    • A valid point Patty. I should point out that this is a CVS-branded product (please see photo accompanying the article). They took the Boiron product and re-branded it. I picked on them because I was able to walk into a CVS store and find it on the shelf.

      This doesn’t let other stores off the hook. I’ve gone into my local Walgreens and Walmart looking for oscillococcinum but have not been able to find it on the shelves. I am still looking and do plan on writing the same type of condemnation if/when I find the “drug” there. I found it online (Amazon) and wrote a scathing review which is still up and drawing comments.

      So you’re very correct in calling me out on this–I’m sure CVS isn’t the only place selling this stuff. When I wrote the article I intended to “catch” the other stores and call them out in follow-on articles. I just haven’t been able to do it yet. In the meantime, I think it would be appropriate to amend “If It Quacks Like A Duck” as you suggest. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Like

  8. I emailed them the following note, we shall see if they respond.

    I was quite dismayed to see articles all over the web talking about this homeopathic and useless remedy “Oscillococcinum” being sold by CVS. CVS has been chartered by my healthcare provider as a responsible and reputable company, even able to provide medical screenings for us. At first I thought it was a joke, but when I searched on the CVS website I found there were 3 products that were returned.

    Toward this end, I wanted to include a few links for you to review:
    https://badscidebunked.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/if-it-quacks-like-a-duck-oscillococcinum/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscillococcinum

    As a company that has gone as far as to remove cigarettes (while profitable) as harmful from its shelves to promote its healthy agenda, I thought you would want to know about this. While Oscillococcinum itself is not likely harmful, it might prevent someone from taking a medication with real efficacy and value to your customers.

    ————————————————————————
    Response received:

    Hi Leonard,

    Thank you for contacting us here at Customer Relations. I am happy to respond. I have notified our Product Team of your concerns. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me directly by clicking on the link below.

    Have a great day!

    Jessica
    CVS Customer Relations

    The reference number for this contact is 4652814.

    To Reply to this Email, Please Click Here

    Like

    • That’s great Leonard, thank you for taking the time to do this. I haven’t been able to even get a response from CVS yet so you’ve achieved more than I have. I’d be interested to know if you receive any further communication from them.

      Like

    • If you remove this product from your shelf i will remove my business from your stores… Please pass that on to your Product Team. I spend a lot of money on health and wellness and preventative medicine for my family. After i adopted this “lifestyle” change for myself and my family, i have seen a decrease in sickness by at least 75%. I am not here to argue science or quackery. My health improvement is all the tests and facts i need!

      Like

      • I’m not a seller of any product so I’m not sure who your comment is directed to.

        I wish you were here to argue science and quackery. It’s what this blog is all about. Snake oil salespeople who sell the alternative cures are welcome to comment here. Unlike quackery sites, people with dissenting opinions are welcome and aren’t banned. Their posts aren’t deleted. But personal stories aren’t convincing.

        Like

  9. Thank you, Mark Aaron Alsip, for this informative article. I believe this useless “drug” is sold in many other stores and health stores, not just CVS.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Susie. You are correct. After I published last year, it was pointed out to me that this nonsense is popping up on shelves everywhere. I hope to use the upcoming flu season as an impetus to write a follow-up. I went after CVS in particular because the discovery of the product on their shelves coincided with their (admirable) policy to stop tobacco sales. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the contradiction and sat down and banged out a quick post. You are right though, this needs further treatment!

      Like

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