'A Mysterious Company Claims to Sell Sneeze-Filled Tissues for $80. Is It Real?'
The package appeared one day, unbidden, on the desk of a TIME writer. Inside was a slick white box that housed a petri dish sealed with gold tape. In the dish was a crumpled tissue—and inside the tissue were, allegedly, the germs of a sick person who had sneezed into it.
Vaev Tissue, the only product of a new startup based in Los Angeles, costs $79.99, according to the company’s website. Its sole purpose is to give the user a cold virus. “We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills,” read the note that came with the product, written by the founder of the company. Wipe your nose with the sullied tissue, and you’ll “get sick on your own terms.”
But a few questions lingered, like a runny nose that won’t go away. Why would anyone pay to make themselves sick? And was this product—and this company—actually real?
In a series of phone calls, I talked to Oliver Niessen, the 34-year-old founder of the company. “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,” says Niessen. You’d wipe your nose with a Vaev tissue a few days before leaving on vacation, for instance, and get your cold out of the way before your trip, Niessen says. “That kind of freedom, that kind of luxury to choose—I mean, we customize everything in our lives and we have everything the way that we want it, so why not approach sickness that way as well?”
The problem is, that’s not how viruses work, says Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona who studies how diseases spread. “There’s a lot of things wrong with that,” he says. “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.” Exposing yourself to one cold might offer you some future protection against that strain. “But getting inoculated from one doesn’t protect you against all the others.” That’s why we’ve never had a vaccine for the common cold, he says. “How do you make a vaccine against 200 different viruses?”