Push vaccination and hygiene, not OTCs: expert

There’s “not a lot” of evidence for most cold remedies or a role for vitamins and supplements in fighting colds and flu, an expert says

Professor Robert Booy, who is Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney and the Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation and Surveillance, also slammed a TV ad aired earlier this year which implied people who had been vaccinated against flu could ignore other preventive measures.

“There are areas in which we’ve got stronger evidence than others, and a lot of things get proffered and promoted during the winter season including cold tablets, which are really only symptomatic: analgesics and measures to dry up secretions,” he says.

“The other measures that are taken – we’re still gathering evidence, we don’t have a lot of evidence for simple pharmaceutical interventions, other than things such as washing your hands regularly.

“We’re not even sure that wearing a mask is that effective. But washing your hands regularly, keeping away from other people is very effective.”

He criticised a recent TV ad which suggested consumers could closely interact with ill people, including on public transport, without concern if they had had the flu vaccine.

“You may have seen some TV ads during April suggesting that once someone is vaccinated against influenza they can waltz through life… that’s ridiculous,” Prof Booy says.

He said that rather than offering complementary medicines, pharmacies could talk about vaccination and hygiene – and remind customers that while winter might be here, it’s actually a good time to be vaccinated.

“The evidence that vitamins, including Vitamin C, will make a difference to your risk or will help you improve more swiftly is very scanty,” he says.

There was some evidence for zinc in prevention of winter respiratory ills, “but that’s about it,” and Echinacea has “a very limited effect”.

People who are vaccinated now will get a “good” level of protection from the flu, Prof Booy said: around 60 to 80%.

“The height of the flu season, as always, is likely to be in July, August, perhaps into September.”

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