While flu activity is waning, it’s still making people really sick, and now the Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to look out for fake flu products that are currently being promoted on the Internet.
The fake products are being marketed by companies as generic versions of the prescription flu treatment Tamiflu when they’re not.
As a result, the FDA has sent out warning letters to such 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.
The FDA has sent out 10 warning letters since January 24, giving companies 15 days to remedy the situation. In the meantime, the agency is warning consumers to stay away from these products, not just because they’re a waste of money, but because they could be dangerous to your health.
Gary Coody, a pharmacist and the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator
“Unapproved antiviral products could be contaminated or counterfeit,” said Gary Coody, a pharmacist and the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator.
“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,” Coody added.
Another danger the FDA is warning consumers about is how these companies are engaging in deceptive marketing practices by falsely claiming these products can neutralize the flu or otherwise serve as replacements for the flu shot. Cody says such claims are “outrageous”, not to mention dangerous – because people who buy them may go ahead and expose themselves to the flu, thinking they’re protected when they’re not.
Coody uses Oasis Consumer Healthcare as an example of such advertising, saying how they tout the virtues of the company’s flu product, Halo, is “outlandish”.
Indeed, the FDA has asked Oasis Consumer Healthcare to specifically remove certain wording from its site as follows:
“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.”
Unfortunately, marketing fake flu treatments has been around for some time.
“Any time a health threat occurs, fraud emerges almost overnight,” Coody said. “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.”
According to Cody, that’s why the FDA decided to take its message directly to consumers.
"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."