FDA on flu claims: 'snot legal

The FDA's warning manufacturers against making false claims and warning consumers against believing them.

The FDA's going after false flu-fighting claims with the tenacity of a stubborn stomach virus. According to the American Herbal Products Association, the agency sent warning letters last week to the following companies: Discount Online (for so-called generic Tamiflu); Kosher Vitamins (for various formulas); Mednoscript (Russian Federation) (for so-called generic Tamiflu); Oasis Consumer Healthcare (for a spray product); Secure Medical Inc. (for so-called Tamiflu gel tablets); Sun Drug Store (for so-called generic Tamiflu); Supplementality (for various formulas); and University of Berkley (for homeopathic products). Click here to read the letters.

Last month, the FDA issued a warning to Flu and Cold Defence, LLC for misleading claims about its GermBullet inhaler. In its warning letter, FDA noted the claim: "An FDA recognized virology lab independently tested GermBullet inhalation blend and confirmed that it has the potential capability to kill cold and flu viruses." However, FDA noted it has not "recognized" any virology lab that has independently tested the product and that this claim allegedly misbrands the product, as well. Oops.

In addition, the FDA's warning consumers about sketchy claims by manufacturers of potions that promise to neutralize colds and flu or replace flu shots, according to NBC News. “Those claims are outrageous,” said Gary Coody, a pharmacist and the FDA's national health fraud coordinator.

Fraudulant claims and products seem to be coughed up with each new health scare. “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.”

“Right now, so-called 'alternatives' to the flu vaccine are big with scammers,” Coody said. This year's flu season started about a month earlier than normal and the dominant flu strain is one that tends to make people sicker than usual. The government doesn't keep a running tally of adult deaths from the flu, but estimates that it kills about 24,000 people most years. Go wash your hands.

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