Flu nosode

Leaving nosodes on the market is dangerous, public health experts say. They are promoted as an alternative to conventional vaccinations. (CBC)

Ineffective homeopathic alternatives to vaccines should be taken off the market because they are a dangerous distraction, public health officials urge as infectious diseases such as measles make a comeback.

Some naturopaths, homeopaths and chiropractors sell homeopathic nosodes described as a diluted remedy of bacteria or virus. They are most often given orally, but can be injected as well.

Health Canada says the packages need to be labelled with a warning: "This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination."

Last year, CBC-TV's Marketplace found homeopathic practitioners telling parents nosodes were as effective as vaccines against diseases such as measles, polio and pertussis (whooping cough), which is highly contagious and can be fatal for infants.

"There's no evidence to support their claims at all around providing immunity against infectious diseases," said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer. "I think, frankly, having them available on the market is dangerous. It's distracting and it's helping people avoid immunization or giving them a reason not to be immunized."

Strang said in 2013 his provincial and territorial colleagues wrote to Health Canada to request nosodes be pulled from the market. He repeated his call on Tuesday.  

"Those warning labels really aren't having an impact," Strang said.

In Ontario, where 16 cases of measles have been identified, Ontario health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said vaccination is the only way to protect yourself and those around you from the highly infectious disease.

"There's no such thing as a homeopathic or a naturopathic vaccine," Hoskins said. "The only way you can protect yourself is by being vaccinated. So it does worry me anytime that there is misinformation out there in the public domain."

When Edmonton pediatrician Dr. Robert Moriarty, president of the Canadian Pediatric Society, started practising 38 years ago, he saw three children hospitalized with measles die. Moriarty wants to put an end to the claims that nosodes prevent serious disease because there's no evidence they offer any protection.

"Licensed health officials and alternative health officials should be subject to the regulations of their profession and called to task if they continue to spread the anti-vaccination message," Moriarty said. 

During question period in the House of Commons today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked about vaccination promotion campaigns, which he said are one of the government's responsibilities.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose was not available for an interview.

"The minister has been very clear that it is really irresponsible if parents do not vaccinate their children and that she encourages parents to speak to their doctors and physicians and seek out good credible, evidence-based information on the safety of vaccines if they have any concerns or they're reading any information that might lead them to the conclusion that vaccines are unsafe," Ambrose's spokesman, Michael Bolkenius, said in an email

"Approval decisions on nosodes, or any other natural health product, are made by Health Canada scientists."

With files from CBC's Diane Paquette