The increasing global awareness of flu prevention and treatment has caused a mad rush for certain Chinese products in drugstores.

In New York’s Chinatown, some shops are running out of a certain paste that is said to be effective in soothing symptoms such as cough.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story over the weekend about how two interviewees claimed they were miraculously cured after taking a spoonful of Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa.

Now that this herbal supplement has become popular, the retail price at some online stores has shot up almost 10 times, to US$70 from US$7.80, especially after an endorsement by American actor and producer Matthew Modine.

The surging price may present an arbitrage opportunity for the product, which was being sold for about US$13 on Amazon.com and US$4 on Hktvmall.com.

People may be able to recall the avian influenza H7N9 emergency in 2013. At that time, people in Shanghai and Nanjing were rushing to drugstores to snap up isatis root and masks to protect themselves from infection.

At that time, a drugstore in Nanjing was receiving an average of six customers for that Chinese medicine every 10 minutes, according to a local paper.

A similar situation was seen during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 as people believed isatis root would save them from infection.

So, can Pei Pa Koa really help cure cough?

Perhaps, but an expert in Chinese medicine at Taipei City Hospital warned in an interview that people who cough because of asthma or heart disease should not take Pei Pa Koa as it is made of honey, which can worsen the situation. Also, Pei Pa Koa is not suitable for people with diabetes.

In Taiwan, people were not stocking up with Pei Pa Koa but with toilet paper – not for fear of an epidemic of runny noses from the flu, but in anticipation of a price surge next month. Over the weekend they were lining up for toilet paper at major supermarkets, some even filling trolleys with the product.

Wholesale prices of toilet paper are expected to go up by 8-20% in March and April. Some people, fearing a 30% jump in retail prices, bought more than 100 rolls at one time.

Some supermarkets later introduced a rule that each customer could only buy a maximum of 20 rolls at a time.

All this serves as a reminder of how important health is – and health products.