Spa Treatments Cashing In on Swine Flu

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At a time when people are cutting back on luxuries, spas have taken a financial hit — but they’ve been able to hold on to business by tapping in on the season’s most contagious trend: swine-flu hysteria. To that end, spas have upped the ante, supplementing their usual services with therapies marketed with the promise of warding off winter diseases with a little homeopathic pampering.

Of course, facialists and masseuses are not doctors, and their care is preventative at best. To that end, treatments involve words like “detoxifying” and “immune boosting.” The high-end Townhouse Spa, for instance, is offering three different flu-fighters on its menu, with facials and massages starting at $165. The facials make use of bee propolis, thought to have antibacterial effects, and the massage employs gua shua, an Eastern herb used to strengthen the immune system. Or you can go for the herbal detox, where they’ll heat your body to create, as Townhouse owner Jamie Ahn explains it, a “fever-like condition” (before you even get sick!), which kick-starts the immune system. Elsewhere, Graceful Services is offering a 90-minute “Immune Booster” package, employing both acupuncture and lymphatic drainage ($100). Salon Ishi will massage your scalp with special Japanese water which, with a pH of 12.5, is said to kill bacteria ($85). Even Equinox is tapping into the germ-phobic zeitgeist: The fitness club’s 74th Street spa is offering a vitamin-infused facial and sinus-clearing steam.

The marketing tactic seems to be working. “Our immune treatments are outselling the standard massages and facials right now,” says Ahn. Meanwhile, over at Dorit Baxter, a flu-fighting massage ($118) has been on the menu for years — but only now is it gaining in popularity. “In the past, we would have one person a month come in for this,’” says manager Yaffa Rabe. “Now, there is such a fear of swine flu that we have a couple of people asking for this every day.”

No doubt homeopathic guru Dr. Andrew Weil would champion this stuff, but what good will it actually do?

According to Dr. Jeff Morrissey, a family practitioner with a 5th Avenue office, most of these therapies are actually beneficial. “There is no question that these treatments will protect against winter illnesses, even the flu and swine flu,” he says, citing in particular lymph drainage or treatments that employ natural substances known to have immune-boosting properties. “However I wouldn’t recommend them once a person has the flu.” Too little, too late, as it were.

So preparation, even if it errs on the indulgent side, is key. Pratima Day Spa knows that any one treatment probably won’t do you any good, however. That’s why they suggest you come in three days in a row for their ayurvedic sinus-clearing ($190 for three sessions). Better safe than sorry, after all.