Start-up sells $80 used tissues to ‘train your immune system.’ Doctors don’t buy it.

Update: The founder of the fake start-up has since admitted it was hoax, despite being quoted in this story saying that it wasn’t a hoax. McClatchy stands by its original story, which covered the issue with skepticism and expert opinions. 

A California company says its used tissues, which sell for $79.99 online, “train your immune system” to fight off illness on your own terms.

But medical experts say that’s not how any of this works. sells a single product, non-prescription tissues “specially treated with organic ingredients” to help customers “prepare for flu season,” according to the site.

“We’re not about chemicals or prescription drugs here at Væv,” says the site. “We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills.”

The company began in Denmark but recently set up shop in Los Angeles, according to the site.

“The simple idea is you choose now to get sick, with the idea in mind that you won’t get sick with that same cold … later,” said founder Oliver Niessen, Time reported. For example, someone with an upcoming vacation might want to get sick beforehand to avoid a later illness spoiling their trip.

Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona, says there “are a lot of things wrong” with that idea, Time reported.

“There are more than 200 types of rhinoviruses, so you’re going to have to shove about 200 tissues up your nose each time to get a different one,” he said, according to the publication.

“The reason we don’t have a cure or vaccine for the common cold is that there are just too many of them, and they keep on changing,” wrote Dr. Dave Hnida for KFOR about VaevTissue.

Hnida also asked how you know the person who sneezed into the tissues even has a cold in the first place and not allergies?

Niessen told Time his company has a stable of about 10 certified sneezers who are genuinely sick. “A sick person sneezes into a batch of our tissues, and then we put them in our packaging, and that’s how they work,” he said. “We just send it through the mail.”

Even so, “there’s no evidence that this is going to work,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Yahoo reported. You’d have to bring the virus into contact with the mucus membrane inside your nose, Adalja said. “You’re usually sneezing into tissues, not sticking it up your nose.”

That leaves at least one other possible hurdle: “The ‘ewww’ factor,” Hnida wrote, according to KFOR. “We all have our personal thresholds, but this one obliterates mine. Used tissues gross me out.”

The tissues are currently sold out, according to a note on the store page, but Niessen says suggestions the whole thing might be a hoax are “very annoying,” Time reported. “People think it is fake,” he said. “It’s not.”

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

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