Fighting cold and flu season is never fun. Who wants to slurp down sticky, gooey cough syrup and gallons of chicken soup? But the shortage of flu vaccines could force many metro Atlantans to rely on such old-school remedies.
Drug manufacturers, however, have been scrambling to find new ways of delivering the medicine we need but don't really like. And shoppers are snatching those cold and flu fighters off the shelves.
"Cold and flu products always do well this time of year, but this year they're doing even better," said Carol Hively, corporate spokeswoman for Walgreens drugstores. "Sales of flu and cold products and hand-sanitizer products have been especially strong."
This has had companies ramping up production on products that fight or prevent colds and flu before the official flu season even hits.
"As soon as word got out that there was a flu vaccine shortage, we started getting calls from people and companies looking for alternative ways to prevent the flu," said Carolyn Christian, market development director for workplace wellness for Purell, a hand sanitizer. GOJO Industries, which makes Purell, has since increased production to meet demand.
"Now we're being pulled into the market, rather than pushing our way in," Christian said.
The company's workplace wellness program was created in response to last year's horrible flu season and the emergence of other scary viruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the Norwalk virus, which struck on cruise ships, Christian said. A new line of products aimed at workplace wellness will launch in January, including a desktop dispenser to encourage more frequent use of the sanitizers.
And hand sanitizers aren't the only cold-fighting remedies selling faster than beer at a summer baseball game.
Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues, which launched about 10 weeks ago, are selling briskly.
"Our present demand is higher than we initially projected," said Steve Erb, associate marketing director for Kleenex. "We knew we had a winning product idea, and since we've launched, the news of the flu vaccine shortage has certainly heightened interest."
The tissues have a middle layer that is activated by moisture. The company claims that 99.9 percent of cold and flu viruses on the tissue are killed within 15 minutes.
But people aren't just gearing up to prevent colds and flu, they're also preparing to treat them, and there are new products to make that easier, too. Theraflu Thin Strips and Triaminic Thin Strips, which were introduced in September, are modeled after the popular breath-freshening strips that are placed on the tongue and dissolve quickly. Instead of giving you a minty mouth, these strips have medication aimed at relieving coughs and cold symptoms. Shortly after hitting the market, the strips were named best product of 2004 by Convenience Industry News magazine.
"People like them because they're portable and convenient and don't require a spoon or other measuring device," said David Cooper, a spokesman for the company. Over the past three months, sales of Theraflu products were up 43 percent over the same period last year, while sales of Triaminic, the company's line of children's products, are up 16 percent, according to Cooper.
"Parents especially seem to like them because they're easier to administer to children," he said.
Easier dosing also was the impulse behind ElixSure, a liquid cold remedy that turns to gel on the spoon so it's less likely to spill.
"It not only saves on mess, but on waste, because it's hard for parents to figure out exactly how much spilled and how much they got down their child," said Bob Carraher, group vice president of Taro Consumer Health Care Products, which makes ElixSure.
That's also the idea behind Zicam's Concentrated Cough Mist, which was introduced this month. Instead of hassling with syrup on a spoon, parents just squirt a dose into the child's mouth.
Spokesman David Santoriello said the product has been selling quickly.
But do these treatments or preventives really work? That depends on what illness you have, according to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases physician at Vanderbilt University.
"If you come down with a common cold, these kinds of products really do offer relief and make you feel more comfortable," Schaffner said. "But if it's the flu, and it's a severe case, over-the-counter medications offer only modest relief."
But unless you're in one of the at-risk groups --- like the elderly, very young or those with a suppressed immune system --- even the flu probably won't kill you. It'll just make you wish, at least for a few days, that it had.
Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution