From Our 2009 Archives

Swine Flu Supplements: Magic Pill?

By Michael W. Smith, MD

Since people are always looking for that magic cure pill, it's inevitable that I've been getting questions about supplements for swine flu.

It's of no surprise that some companies have jumped at the opportunity to sell supplements that supposedly combat swine flu. And it's no surprise that there is so much interest.

People are very concerned -- honestly, far more concerned than they probably should be -- about getting sick from swine flu.

There are absolutely no supplements that are known to help fight swine flu. Last week, the FDA and the FTC alerted the public to be wary of any product that claims to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure the H1N1 swine flu.

A group of supplement industry associations have joined together to come out against swine flu supplements, pointing out that they are "unaware of any scientific data supporting the use of dietary supplements to treat swine flu. Furthermore, federal law does not allow dietary supplements to claim to treat any diseases, including swine flu."

What concerns me even more is why people feel they need swine flu supplements.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me bring up a couple of quick stats about the regular flu season that we see every year. On average, 200,000 people are hospitalized with the seasonal flu just in the U.S. and 36,000 people die in this country. But I'd guess that not many of us think much about the risk of this garden-variety flu -- much less taking supplements to treat this flu.

Compare that to what we've seen thus far with the swine flu. As of yesterday, there has been one swine flu death. I'm certainly not making light of that death as it's very tragic. I'm making the point that relative to what we normally see with the flu, the swine flu thankfully has been very mild so far.

To date, very few swine flu infections have been serious and almost everyone has fully recovered.

Your risk of getting serious flu infection, and even dying, is far greater with the regular flu than it is, thus far, with the swine flu. And while officials are being cautious, there is nothing to suggest that this swine flu outbreak will all of a sudden cause more serious infections.

Don't take this as an excuse to lighten up on your flu prevention -- you should still wash your hands regularly and frequently, avoid close contact with sick people, avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes, and stay home if you feel ill.

© 2009 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.





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