Catching the ‘Airborne’ Virus

At 10 minutes before the hour, I scramble down the congested hallway toward my classroom. A girl walks toward me and, at three feet away, she throws her head toward her chest and sneezes. I quickly hold my breath, so as to avoid breathing in the thousands of microscopic germs that are dancing in the air.
When I turn the corner of the hallway, a guy vehemently coughs and I can hear the blob of mucus bouncing in his throat. I scold myself for never getting my zesty orange-flavored Airborne tablets out of my pantry and into my backpack.
So, does Airborne work? According to a dozen of my friends, it does. Even Oprah endorses it as a cold-fighter and, apparently, millions of other Americans who have boosted Airborne’s sales to over $100 million.
The first time I watched the quarter-sized orange tablet fizzle in a glass of water, I was relieved of my snuffles two hours after I gulped down the solution. I was ready to follow the flock of Airborne endorsers. I’ve used Airborne twice since then and, unfortunately, the tablets didn’t cure or relieve my cold symptoms. I’ve told myself that it’s because I didn’t properly follow the instructions: ‘Take at the first sign of a cold symptom or before entering crowded environments.’ I probably took the tablet after my second sign of a cold symptom.
According to Seychelle Cannes, a physician of 30 years who leads the Acupuncture and Herbal Clinic in Costa Mesa, Airborne can possibly help individuals who are beginning to have a cold.
‘I cannot say that it works. I assume it works to some degree but I do not prescribe it to my patients. It’s an over-the-counter product,’ Cannes said. ‘Airborne does have some Chinese herbs and I know that Chinese herbs, such as yin chiao, work.’
According to Cannes, Chinese herbs and, she assumes, Airborne are only effective if used on the first sign of any aching, slight sore throat or other first sign of a cold. If an individual has already been deeply infected by a cold, any supplement will not work.
Thu Nguyen, a third-year biological sciences major, is an assistant at Longs Drugs pharmacy in Costa Mesa and has seen the evident popularity of Airborne.
‘Everyone asks for it at the pharmacy. It completely sells out,’ Nguyen said. ‘We now have to put the rack of Airborne outside of the pharmacy since people ask for it so much. Longs even has its own Longs brand called ‘Airfield.”
According to Nguyen, two of the pharmacists she works with differ in opinion on whether Airborne helps a cold.
‘One pharmacist I work with is really into Airborne and carries it wherever she goes,’ Nguyen said. ‘But there is another pharmacist who doesn’t believe in the use of any vitamins or herbal supplements because he feels that we live in America where we should already have access to vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat.’
Claudia Kawas, a professor in neurology at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and professor in neurobiology and behavior in the School of Biological Sciences, attended Nguyen’s neurobiology and behavior lecture as a guest speaker and commented on Airborne’s effectiveness.
Kawas pointed out that Airborne has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is for this reason that Airborne packages state that it is ‘not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.’ Saying otherwise would be in violation of FDA regulations.
The makers of Airborne claim that it has undergone scientific study, stating that a double-blind, placebo-controlled study was carried out with ‘care and professionalism’ by a company specializing in clinical trial management, GNG Pharmaceutical Services. According to GNG, the study was conducted with 120 adults, and 47 percent of Airborne recipients showed relief from cold or flu symptoms whereas only 23 percent of placebo pill recipients showed improvement.
However, just last year, ABC News looked into GNG’s clinical study of Airborne and discovered that GNG has no official clinic, scientists or doctors. In fact, GNG is actually run by two men who started GNG just to conduct the Airborne study. One of the men stated that he has extensive experience in doing clinical trials and that he attended Indiana University. However, the university said that he never graduated.
The Airborne tablet was developed by Victoria Knight-McDowell who taught second graders at Spreckels Elementary School near Carmel, Calif. and wanted to create a formula that would support her immune system against germs and viruses from her students.
Note that I said Knight-McDowell created Airborne to ‘support her immune system’ and not because she was ‘sick of catching colds,’ which appears on older Airborne packages that may be in your pantry or medicine cabinet. Because many consumers were confused by the idea that Airborne would cure their cold, Airborne decided to change its wording on the package and advertisement so that the word ‘cold’ does not appear.
Yet the fact that Airborne is not FDA approved and that it was created by a second grade teacher with no scientific background doesn’t seem to faze consumers.
‘I don’t know if it works but it definitely is marketed well,’ Nguyen said. ‘If a person uses Airborne once and it helps him, he’ll believe that it works. If the same person uses Airborne again and it doesn’t work, he’ll just think that he didn’t use it properly