Buy Used, Germy Tissues & Never Get Sick Again

That’s the thinking behind a start-up’s controversial new product, which cost $80 a box.

By Jessie Schiewe


An enterprising Dane named Oliver Niessen thinks he’s found a cure for the common cold: use already infected tissues. By exposing yourself to certain viruses, the thinking goes that your immune system will become strengthened and better able to fight them off the next time.

Niessen came up with the idea of pre-infected tissues when he lived in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017. The 34-year-old “grew tired of needles and pills” as cures for his ailments and created his start-up, Vaev, to manufacture an alternative solution. He seems to see a future in this, having recently moved Vaev’s offices to Los Angeles, California. Last fall, the company hired a handful of young women to pass out samples of their tissues along Venice Beach. Vaev now has eight employees and Niessen said they’ve already sold 1,000 boxes.

The tissues — which sell for $80 a box — come pre-crumbled to really hammer in the fact that they’ve already been used, tucked into sleek containers that look like they’re made out of white marble and not paper.

The appeal of using them, aside from the thrill of inhaling someone else’s germs and spending way too much money on something you could essentially grab for free out of a trash can, is that you can better control when and if you get sick. "We believe that when flu season comes around, you should be able to get sick on your terms," Vaev’s website reads.

Niessen explained to Time how this might work. Before embarking on a trip, for example, you might want to use Vaev tissues. By infecting yourself a few days before your departure, you’re essentially getting the cold out of the way before the fun begins.

“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,” Niessen explained. “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?”

As for how Vaev’s pre-infected tissues are made, thanks goes to what Niessen referred to as a “stable” of about 10 go-to sneezers. Some of them were recruited online and all of them are checked to make sure they’re truly sick and don’t just have allergies. The rest is pretty simple. “A sick person sneezes into a batch of our tissues, and then we put them in our packaging, and that’s how they work,” Niessen said. “We just send it through the mail.”

It’s less clear what exactly the tissues contain. Their product page on the website explains that they are “treated with organic ingredients” and that they are “non-prescription.” Scroll down a little further and you’ll discover this verbal explosion of scientific jargon that’s supposed to better explain what’s actually in the tissues:

Specifically engineered to contain and absorb colloid buildup, salts, antiseptic enzymes, immunoglobulins, and glycoproteins such as lactoferrin and mucins, produced by goblet cells in the mucous membranes and submucosal glands.

Vaev’s website explains that it “believe[s] using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills,” but there’s no mention of any science that backs this up — and it’s possible none could.

A handful of people have voiced serious concerns not only about the efficacy of the tissues, but about their potential risk to public safety. Medical professionals point out that there are more than 200 types of rhinoviruses alone; way too many to inoculate against in one pre-infected tissue. So while you might be protecting yourself against one or two strains, you’re not 100-percent protected.

Unless the tissues are refrigerated or sprayed with a preservative, it’s also not likely the virus will survive on them long enough to spread to anyone else in the first place.

This might be a good thing, because when you think about it, the idea of someone capturing viruses and then sending them through the mail to infect more people around the world is actually quite alarming. It’s so obviously a bad idea — or “incredible liability” — that it could be the plot of an apocalyptic sci-fi film. You can’t predict how a person’s body will react to any virus and some people are at higher risks of suffering health complications than others. And yet, according to Time, the only instructions that come with Vaev’s pre-infected tissues are that they’re only intended for adults and children 6 years and older.

According to Niessen, the bulk of Vaev’s customers tend to be young parents and twentysomethings who are anti-vaccines. The already infected tissues are apparently pretty popular at music festivals, too.

But even if you wanted to, you couldn’t buy one of Vaev’s $80 boxes today. For months, the website has listed them as being “sold out.” Niessen hinted it was because of a “supply chain issue” having to do with their stable of sneezers who infect the tissues. Namely, that too many of them are healthy right now. And when it’s your job to be sick, that can be a problem.


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