Fears of a severe outbreak of influenza coupled with vaccine shortages caused consumers in search of immune-boosting remedies to stockpile popular products.
Those fears have driven store employees to wipe down surfaces, put on gloves and boost their own immune systems against germs tracked in by sniffly customers.
In Alaska, where flu season starts in early October, Peninsula Health and Nutrition in Kenai sold out of Dolisos? Dolivaxil, a homeopathic flu solution for healthy people.
Dolivaxil was in short supply nationwide as Dolisos USA waited for a large shipment to arrive from its parent company in France, said Darren Krein, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas company.
?It was held up in customs for two weeks,? Krein said. Shipments were released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-November.
Jennifer Stratton, daughter of Peninsula Health?s owners and the store?s chef, estimated that five or six people come in per day looking for cold and flu prevention, while 10 people show up already sick. About 7,000 people live in Kenai.
Stratton, in her role as chef, has been making many ?Sea of C? smoothies with spirulina and citrus. She?s also a fan of Nutribiotic Defense Plus, a combination of grapefruit seed extract, echinacea, astragalus, mushrooms and herbs.
Stratton worries more about the germs that come into the store with customers. She recalled a high school project in which she took swabs from doorknobs and toilets to test for surface bacteria. ?Grocery carts are the worst,? she said. ?They never clean grocery carts. Not ever.?
She and her sister now wear gloves when handling carts. Other stores offer hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes to disinfect surfaces for customers and employees.
Although customers may ask for a flu vaccine replacement or something to cure flu, Manhattan attorney Marc Ullman warned that ?severe and swift? enforcement from both FDA and the Federal Trade Commission is likely against manufacturers or retailers who make claims that any natural remedy will prevent or cure influenza.
?We never use the word prevent,? Krein said of Dolivaxil, which is a preparation of the same flu strains released by the Pasteur Institute to make flu shots. ?Prevention is a little bit too strong of a word, [and] we don?t say ?flu vaccine alternative,? ? he noted. It?s sold as a ?flu season defense.?
For boosting their own defenses, staff ?love the Garden of Life products—Primal Defense and Greens,? said Sonya Boyer, manager at The Health Food Place and Market in Twin Falls, Idaho.
The 3,000-square-foot store is selling ?lots? of Boiron products, including Oscillococcinum and ColdCalm; Nature?s Sunshine VS-C; Source Naturals? Wellness Formula; Enzymatic Therapy?s Esberitox; and old standbys such as echinacea, colostrum and oregano.
Carolyn Martinez, who does education and outreach at Walsh Homeopathics in Evanston, Ill., said flu prevention didn?t appear to be motivating consumers in Chicago. ?We had a big spurt in October,? she said. ?Then it?s been quieter.?
Nevertheless, she urges employees to clean shared objects such as phones. ?Washing your hands is a big deal,? she said.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 1