Cochrane review of homeopathic flu remedy published

A review to study the effectiveness of a popular homeopathic medicine used for treating influenza and influenza-like illness has proved inconclusive.1 Although not sold in the UK, Oscillococcinum® is a patented homeopathic medicine widely available in Europe and North America.

Researchers conducted a systematic review to determine whether Oscillococcinum® is more effective than placebo in the prevention and/or treatment of influenza and influenza-like illness in adults or children. The authors searched seven electronic bibliographic databases, as well as contacting the manufacturers of Oscillococcinum® for information on additional clinical trials.

Only randomised, placebo-controlled, trials of Oscillococcinum® were considered for analysis. Data were independently extracted from the eligible trials and assessed for risk of bias by the three authors of the review: Dr Robert Mathie, Dr Peter Fisher and Dr Joyce Frye, all experts in homeopathic research.

Dr Mathie is Research Development Adviser, British Homeopathic Association; Dr Fisher is Clinical and Research Director, Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine; Dr Frye is Associate Professor, Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA.

Dr Mathie said: “There is insufficient good evidence to enable robust conclusions to be made about Oscillococcinum® in the prevention or treatment of influenza and influenza-like illness. The findings do not rule out the possibility that Oscillococcinum® could have a clinically useful treatment effect but, given the low quality of the eligible studies, the evidence is not compelling.”

The review is available in the Cochrane Library but the main points are:

• Six studies were included: two prophylaxis trials (327 young to middle-aged adults in Russia) and four treatment trials (1,196 teenagers and adults in France and Germany). The overall standard of trial reporting was poor and hence many important methodological aspects of the trials had unclear risk of bias.
• Two treatment trials (judged as “low quality”) reported sufficient information to allow full data extraction: 48 hours after commencing treatment, there was an absolute risk reduction of 7.7% in the frequency of symptom relief with Oscillococcinum® compared with that of placebo. A significant but lesser effect was also observed at three days; but at four days or at five days no significant difference between the groups was noted.
• There was no statistically significant difference between the effects of Oscillococcinum® and placebo in the prevention of influenza-like illness.

The review updates a 2006 Cochrane review by Vickers and Smith, which came to broadly the same conclusions. To read the new study visit:

1. Mathie RT, Frye J, Fisher P. Homeopathic Oscillococcinum® for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like illness. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD001957. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub5.