Italian pharmacists face a huge surge in demand for a product usually marketed to boost babies’ immune systems, weeks after a video that went viral suggested it could protect against the coronavirus.
Lactoferrin, a protein found in high concentrations in breast milk, has been the subject of a small clinical trial in Rome. Organizers reported positive results, but said more research was needed.
Many pharmacists in central Rome told AFP they have since faced a surge in demand.
“We don’t know anything about this product,” a pharmacist told AFP on condition of anonymity, confirming a surge in demand. “When people are afraid, they are ready to believe anything.”
The lactoferrin request follows a report last July in which Elena Campione, professor of dermatology at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome and one of the organizers of the clinical trial, made strong statements.
“We have decided to treat patients who are COVID-19 positive, at the early stage of the disease,” she said. “It was incredible, but 10 days after starting therapy the symptoms disappeared and the PCR test (for the coronavirus) was negative,” she said.
These statements went viral on social media, but the video fizzled out.
It resurfaced, however, when cases of the virus began to increase in September and October, leading to high demand for lactoferrin products.
“No clinical evidence”
While the substance is most commonly sold as a supplement for babies, it is also marketed by a company under the brand name ‘CovAlt’ and sold as part of a product line that includes hand gels and other products. associated with combating the virus.
“I get a lot of inquiries about this, so I collectively respond to everyone,” wrote Roberto Burioni, a famous professor of virology in Milan (north) on Twitter, who runs a website called Medical Facts.
“There is no clinical evidence of the usefulness of lactoferrin in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19,” he said.
A position shared by the Spanish health authorities who recently ordered a doctor to stop popularizing his lactoferrin-based products and denounced him for carrying out unauthorized studies.
Dr Gabriel Serrano is now reportedly under sanctions from the Valencia regional health authority for his activities.
“Like a psychosis”
A large pharmacy in central Rome told AFP that it now sells up to 100 boxes of the supplement each week, compared to only two or three per month normally.
“Flu season is approaching, so maybe some are buying this product for that reason,” said an employee of the Igea San Gallicano pharmacy. “But if someone comes and buys wholesale, you know they’re buying it because of COVID-19.”
Another pharmacist, standing in front of boxes of “CovAlt” and other supplements, told AFP that her family business had also seen increased demand.
Before, “they would come to ask for advice on what they could take to strengthen their immune system against Covid. Now they come and ask for these supplements by name, “she said, noting a surge in sales of this product in major drugstores,” like a psychosis. “
Contacted by AFP, the Laboratorio della Farmacia, which manufactures the CovAlt range, and the Ministry of Health, did not respond.
The first country in Europe to be affected by the epidemic in February, Italy recorded more than 38,000 deaths.