As if the influenza inflicted didn't have enough to worry about, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently added fraudulent flu products to their list—which now probably reads something like: eat soup, summon strength to shower, send significant other out for medicines, verify medicines are legit.
According to FDA's consumer update, "scammers are alive and well, promoting their fraudulent products to the unsuspecting public," and selling said products "with claims to prevent, treat or cure the flu, even though they have not been tested and the FDA has not approved them."
These questionable items can take the form of products marketed as dietary supplements or conventional foods, drugs, nasal sprays and devices found online and in retail stores. "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."
Enter many pro flu vaccine tidbits and reminders, including this statement from the director of FDA's Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality, Mary Malarkey, who said "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."
When it is too late (i.e. already sick with flu), "two FDA-approved antiviral drugs—Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir)—are treatment options recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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," the FDA consumer update states.
No OTC flu cures
Outside of that short list, there are "no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu." There are, however, legal OTC products to reduce fever and to relieve muscle aches, congestion, and other symptoms typically associated. Whether marketed as a dietary supplement, herbal tea, air filter or light therapy device, unapproved drugs are fraudulent if they make flu prevention, treatment or cure claims, according to Coody, "because they haven't been evaluated by FDA for these uses."
A few more "Flu Fraud Red Flags!" include these flu claims on an unapproved product, which indicate that it may be fraudulent:
- reduces severity and length of flu
- boosts your immunity naturally without a flu shot
- safe and effective alternative to flu vaccine
- prevents catching the flu
- effective treatment for flu
- faster recovery from flu
- supports your body's natural immune defenses to fight off flu
I wonder—how many natural products geared toward immunity could be classified as fraudulent scammers by these standards?
FDA cracks down on flu products
Last month, 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, requiring the firm 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.
It appears corrective action is already in the works, with a big fat: "Website under Reconstruction" page and this message in the corner: *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Flu vaccine as only option?
Suffice it to say, nobody wants to get one of these letters peppered with violations. And, when it comes to our health and wellbeing, we want fraudulent products peddled by scammers even less. But shouldn't we also be skeptical of the idea that the flu vaccine is the only option?
The FDA's crackdown seems to deal more with concerns over how these other options—however efficacious—are branded and marketed, with special attention to the language and context. Whatever products you choose, heed the consumer update's final statement regarding fraudulent online pharmacies, as generic forms of even the recommended antiviral drugs are not approved but out there on such sites.
"With unapproved products, you really don't know what you're getting and can't be sure of the quality," says FDA pharmacist Connie Jung, R.Ph., Ph.D., of FDA's Office of Drug Security, Integrity and Recalls. "The products could be counterfeit, contaminated, or have the wrong active ingredient or no active ingredient. You could experience a bad reaction, or not receive the drug you need to get better."
What do you think about the flu fraud? Share in the comments.