People who can't get flu shots have been snapping up all manner of products that they hope will help them avoid getting sick, retailers say.
Sales are up for hand sanitizers and a new variety of antivirus Kleenex tissue. There are herbal concoctions with names like "Airborne" and other products, such as an "air purification" light bulb called the O-Zone Lite, whose makers hope that news about the flu-shot shortage will boost their business.
Companies that sell cold and flu remedies say sales are up this season.
"When that shortage was announced, we definitely saw a spike" in herbal and homeopathic products, said Judy Strauss Sansone, vice president of health care merchandising for drugstore chain CVS Corp. She wouldn't say how much sales rose after the national shortage of flu shots began in October, but she said the jump was significant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution that natural remedies are no substitutes for a flu shot. "There is no scientific evidence that any herbal, homeopathic, or other folk remedy has any benefit against influenza," said Bonnie Hebert, a CDC spokeswoman.
But people appear to be buying such products, either out of conviction that they work or hope that they might. "If they were relying on the flu vaccine, with this stuff at least they get peace of mind," said James O'Donnell, a pharmacology professor at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
Public health officials have urged people to slow the spread of flu by washing their hands frequently or using a hand sanitizer. Executives at GoJo Industries Inc. in Akron, Ohio, said that has driven up demand for the company's Purell hand-sanitizer lotion, which the company says combines moisturizers and ethyl alcohol to kill germs.
GoJo executives said the biggest increase in sales has come from companies whose flu-shot programs for employees were scrapped because of the vaccine shortage. GoJo has a new product for them: a plastic desktop cradle that can hold a 12-ounce bottle of Purell. It won't be available until next month, but the company is offering retractable clips and lanyards that hold smaller bottles.
The "antiviral" Kleenex, made by Kimberly-Clark Corp., hit stores in August. The middle layer of the three-ply tissue contains citric acid and sodium laurel sulfate, which are designed to kill cold and flu virus strains on contact when a tissue user blows or wipes his nose.
In October, Kimberly-Clark launched a $30 million advertising campaign, blanketing TV, magazines, radio and the Internet with ads promising the tissue will trap and kill germs. Mary Goggans, a marketing director for Kleenex, said the ad campaign was planned before the flu-vaccine shortage.
"We got a much better sense of awareness for the product without changing a thing," she said. "Right time, right place."