In researching this story, I took the unusual step of asking a startup if its product is actually real. That's because Vaev, a sneezed-on dirty tissue that you can order for $79.99 (£60, AU$111), seems like it could be something dreamed up in Saturday Night Live's writers' room.
"We believe that when flu season comes around, you should be able to get sick on your terms," reads the Vaev website. "We're not about chemicals or prescription drugs here at Væv. We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills."
Vaev has no phone number posted on its site, and I haven't gotten a response back from a contact form. But the idea is that you order a sick person's tissue and infect yourself with whatever they sneezed into the tissue at a time that's convenient for you, thereby building up your immune system so you don't get sick later when it would be more inconvenient.
But as Dr. Brahm Segal, chief of the infectious diseases department at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, told me, there're multiple problems with this concept.
"First, the virus is unlikely to survive on the tissue, which means the consumer is using a dirty tissue, but not an infected tissue," he explained via email. "There are so many viral strains that there's no reason to think that this will offer any protection against subsequent viral exposures."
Dr. Segal says that for the flu, which is what Vaev suggests it helps protect against, the flu vaccine remains the most effective means of protection.
"Intentionally transmitting the flu virus or an unrelated virus from one person to another makes no medical sense and is obviously bad for public health."
I asked Segal what he would say to a patient who asked him about using Vaev.
"Do not use it under any circumstances," he said.
I passed the doctor's concerns on to Vaev and asked for a response for this story, but again, have yet to hear back. I'll update this post when I do.
Remarkably, Vaev is currently sold out of its sneeze-filled tissues.
CEO Oliver Niessen told Time: "We have had some supply-chain issues."
Sneezes don't grow on trees, after all. Maybe Vaev needs to start hanging out in the waiting rooms of clinics across the nation to boost their inventory.
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