Vinegar sales soar for use as a dubious cure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 12:00am

White vinegar and flu medications have been cleared from supermarkets and stores in Hong Kong as people respond to the mysterious virus by panicking.

While doctors were questioning the curative powers of white vinegar, said by Chinese folklore to purify the air against flu when boiled, hundreds of nervous customers crowded shops in search of every available bottle.

Wellcome sold nearly 16,000 bottles on Monday. Development manager Diane Chiu Man said the sale of one brand alone was 40 times higher than normal.

The supermarket had to replenish its 250 stores with supplies for a second time yesterday afternoon. Ms Chiu said if the panic continued, they would run out of stock in two or three days.

'We have placed orders with our suppliers but it may be a day or two before the goods arrive,' she said.

ParknShop public relations manager Teresa Pang said sales of white vinegar were 40 to 50 per cent higher than normal.

She said some shops near the border had sold out but the supermarket had already arranged to have them restocked.

Small stores in the New Territories have also been doing a roaring trade. With bottled vinegar sold out, people were arriving at stores with plastic bags so they could buy in bulk. Many stores had cleared their shelves by midday, and there were reports of shopkeepers cashing in by charging exorbitant prices.

Chemist shops reportedly sold out of flu medications and Chinese herbal remedies. But doctors and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners questioned the folklore.

The president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, legislator Lo Wing-lok, said traditional 'cures' were unscientific.

'Vinegar is for cooking. Its effect on bacteria and viruses is limited. The vinegar steam does not have any effect,' he said.

Yu Wui, president of the Association of Hong Kong & Kowloon Practitioners of Chinese Medicine, said: 'If it is concentrated vinegar, it might have some effect. But then you must use it with care or you can be burnt by the acid. If they just boil it and inhale the vapour, the medical effect is really doubtful.'

Mr Yu said traditional Chinese people would boil vinegar with other herbs for several hours to purify the air when there was a flu outbreak. But he said it was questionable if the method still worked today.

'Nowadays the viruses are much stronger. People getting ill should go to see a doctor, be it a Chinese medical doctor or a Western doctor. They should not try taking herbs themselves.'