Bird Flu Placebo

Chinese health officials are reacting with growing concern at the 13th fatality attributed to a new strain of bird flu. In 2003 a similar strain known as SARS killed 800.

Six died last week with more than a hundred infected with the H7N9 strain leading some to promote an herbal infusion for its antiviral properties but tea is not a cure-all.

There is no clinical evidence of the effectiveness of Ban lan gen, an infusion made from the root of the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria) but officials are nonetheless recommending its use.

The reasoning is that it serves as a placebo, calming worried Chinese citizens. It can’t harm those who drink it and the technique has worked previously, reports The Economic Observer, which translated an influential World Crunch blogger on the topic.

“Ban lan gen was also the drug-of-choice for preventing the 2003 SARS epidemic as well as the 2005 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. This time, not only is everybody taking ban lan gen, it is also being fed to chickens and other birds,” according to World Crunch, which criticized the placebo policy.

“We can understand the original intention of provincial health authorities in recommending this prevention measure. To limit the panic caused by a new avian flu outbreak, relevant government departments have to act and inform the public in the most efficient way possible. However, the solution they advocate has garnered public ridicule and contempt – which has defeated its original purpose,” according to World Crunch.

Sources: World Crunch, The Economic Observer