The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to steer clear of the raft of unapproved products now being touted on various internet sites as flu cures or preventatives.
The FDA has already sent out warning letters to companies demanding that they cease deceptive labeling of products as flu remedies and stop selling medicines marketed as generic versions of the prescription flu treatment Tamiflu.
Since January 24, the FDA has sent out 10 warning letters giving companies 15 days to remedy the situation.
But in the meantime, the FDA would like to warn consumers away from these products.
The danger is not just to consumer’s pocketbooks, says Gary Coody, a pharmacist and the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator.
“Unapproved antiviral products could be contaminated or counterfeit,” Coody says. “They could contain the wrong medications. In the past we’ve tested products purported to be Tamiflu and found acetaminophen alone or penicillin derivatives – and those could pose some serious problems.”
The FDA is also warning consumers about marketing claims that suggest products can neutralize the flu or serve as replacements for the flu shot. Those claims, says Coody, are “outrageous.” Not to mention dangerous since people might buy them and, thinking they’re protected, may expose themselves to the flu.
Typical of the kinds of advertising that Coody sees as “outlandish,” are claims by Oasis Consumer Healthcare touting the virtues of a product called Halo.
The FDA has asked the company to specifically remove wording such as the following from its site:
“Knowing that Halo has been proven to kill 99.9 percent of infectious germs, you’ll be ready to embrace the sneezers and coughers in your life.”
“Whether you’re in a minivan full of knee-high sneezers, or boarding a flight aboard Secondhand Air, you can rest assured that three quick sprays of Halo will keep you protected from airborne germs for up to six hours.”
This isn’t the first time the FDA has seen companies ramp up marketing of phony flu therapies.
“Any time a health threat occurs, fraud emerges almost overnight,’ Coody says. “We saw it with the avian flu and H1N1 in 2009. It’s the nature of the Internet and social media that allows firms almost instant access to consumers, so they can get their messages out there very quickly.”
And that speed and agility is why the FDA decided to take its message directly to consumers, Coody says.
When it comes to the sales of "generic" Tamiflu, the FDA's actions won't stop with the letters.
"The FDA will consider whatever means are necessary to stop the marketing of fraudulent flu products to prevent them from proliferating in the marketplace – and will hold those who are responsible for doing so, accountable," says Sarah Clark-Lynn, an FDA spokesperson. "This may include considering civil (seizure, injunction) or criminal (prosecution) enforcement action as appropriate."
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