Fraudulent Flu Products

September 26, 2013

As the flu continues to make people sick—and even cause deaths—scammers are alive and well, promoting their fraudulent products to the unsuspecting public.

These scammers sell their products with claims to prevent, treat or cure the flu, even though they have not been tested and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved them.

FDA warns consumers to steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which can be found online and in retail stores and may include products marketed as dietary supplements or conventional foods, drugs, nasal sprays and devices.

“As any health threat emerges, fraudulent products appear almost overnight,” says Gary Coody, R.Ph., FDA’s national health fraud coordinator. “Right now, so-called ‘alternatives’ to the flu vaccine are big with scammers.”

“These unproven products give consumers a false sense of security,” says Mary Malarkey, director of FDA’s Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality. “There is no need to buy a product that claims to be an alternative to the vaccine. Flu vaccine is still available and it’s not too late to get vaccinated.”

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated every year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for adults and children over six months of age. To find a list of clinics, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vaccine providers in your neighborhood, visit www.flu.gov, click on “Flu Vaccine Finder” and enter your zip code.

If you get the flu, two FDA-approved antiviral drugs—Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir)—are treatment options recommended by CDC. These prescription drugs can help fight the virus in your body and shorten the time you’re sick. They can also be used to help prevent the flu.

Types of Fraudulent Flu Products

There are no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu. However, there are legal OTC products to reduce fever and to relieve muscle aches, congestion, and other symptoms typically associated with the flu.

But unapproved drugs (which sometimes are marketed as dietary supplements), conventional foods (such as herbal teas) or devices (such as air filters and light therapies) are fraudulent if they make flu prevention, treatment or cure claims, says Coody, “because they haven’t been evaluated by FDA for these uses.”

On Jan. 25, 2013, FDA and the Federal Trade Commission jointly sent a warning letter to the company that markets “GermBullet,” a nasal inhaler that makes flu prevention and treatment claims. The firm is required to remove the language in its labeling and advertising that violates federal law.

“If the company continues to sell the product without removing the deceptive and illegal language, the firm may be subject to enforcement action, which could include seizure of the products or other legal sanctions,” says FDA Regulatory Counsel Brad Pace, J.D., of FDA’s Health Fraud and Consumer Outreach Branch.

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