British Columbia

Some seek alternative swine flu therapies

Alternative medicine practitioners say you can skip the swing flu vaccine and still avoid getting sick by using herbal supplements, good nutrition and other natural remedies.

Mainstream doctors say supportive scientific data lacking

A Vancouver homeopath prepares a treatment of Gelsemium, which the alternative practitioners recommend for flu. ((CBC))

While people line up for H1N1 shots across Canada, not all health professionals are trumpeting the benefits of inoculations.

Alternative medicine practitioners say you can skip the vaccine — and still avoid getting sick — with herbal supplements, good nutrition and other natural remedies.

While the mainstream medical community remains skeptical, packages of a remedy intended to beat H1N1 are going out the door faster than staff can put them together at the Access Natural Healing homeopathic clinic in Vancouver.

"This season's flu is really getting people's attention, and there's a level of panic," said homeopath El Cecchetto.

Homeopathic clinic treatments are based on the principle that a substance that can cause symptoms in a healthy person can cure similar symptoms in an unhealthy one.

Treatments from herbs and shrubs

"What we've put in the packages are a remedy called Gelsemium," said Cecchetto.

"That is a remedy that works really well for a lot of the flu symptoms, especially the ones that are showing up for this season's flu."

Gelsemium is derived from an evergreen shrub, and homeopaths say it was used extensively during the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and is safe for use by people of any age.

There also are ancient Chinese remedies for the flu.

A traditional Chinese herbalist prepares a concoction in her Vancouver shop. ((CBC))

"If we can help you [build a] strong immune system, then [we] can help you prevent this problem," said Wendy Hu, a registered traditional Chinese medicine herbalist at Pacific Chinese Herbs & Acupuncture in Vancouver.

"Every day you can take … one piece of this astragalus. And the American Ginseng also, maybe two pieces. Just prepare a cup, add the boiling water, then soak for around 20 minutes. Then we can drink the tea," said Hu.

Mainstream practitioners urge caution

The effectiveness of alternative therapies, however, continue to be disputed by most practitioners of mainstream medicine.

"There's no data for any of them — including homeopathic medicines — that they are effective in preventing or treating influenza," said epidemiologist  Dr. Bonnie Henry of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Another epidemiologist at the centre, Dr. Monika Naus, agreed.

"If people are looking at getting those medications to treat influenza illness, we don't recommend that," Naus said. "There are only two antiviral drugs that are approved for use of treatment. Those are Tamiflu and Zanamavir."

Naus said the best defence against the swine flu virus is to avoid being exposed to it whenever possible and to get the vaccine as soon as it's available.