The Flu Frenzy: Are Drug Companies Are Spreading Hype On This Season's Influenza?

January 12, 2000

This year’s flu season may seem to many of us as particularly harsh, judging by the media coverage of flooded hospitals, health officials’ warnings and interviews with afflicted individuals. But has it really been any worse than any other year?

A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal indicates that much of the media coverage on the flu may have been driven in large part by the aggressive promotional efforts of pharmaceutical companies that have launched new flu-fighting products into the market.

Two companies in particular, Roche Holding Inc. and Glaxco Welcome LC, are intensely marketing two flu medicines–Tamiflu and Relenza. Roche has inundated press rooms around the country with press releases about outbreaks of the flu in their area that differ only in their references to local-area doctors and hospitals.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, "in one of several publicity ploys this past weekend, a dozen grandmotherly actresses hired by Roche fanned out across street corners in Manhattan, handing out packets of freeze-dried chicken soup. The company’s message to curious passers-by: Grandma’s chicken soup may be good for symptoms of the flu, but now there is also a new drug, Tamiflu, that can disable the virus that causes the illness."