Influenza Virus, Source: FDA

At the beginning of March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a warning to the public about “fraudulent and unapproved flu products.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. explained that, “As the flu continues to make people sick — and even cause deaths — unscrupulous actors may also be taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers by promoting their fraudulent products that have not been reviewed by the FDA to be safe and effective. The FDA is warning consumers to be alert, and try and steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which may be found online or in retail stores. We’re advising consumers on some of the telltale signs to look for when trying to spot flu products that may be fraudulent.”

The FDA lays out exactly what kind of claims fraudulent flu treatments make. They also point out that there are no FDA-approved over-the-counter (OTC) flu treatments available, though there are OTC treatments that can help reduce fever or muscle aches.

These flu claims may indicate that an OTC product is fraudulent:

  • reduces severity and length of the flu;
  • boosts your immunity naturally without a flu shot;
  • safe and effective alternative to the flu vaccine;
  • prevents catching the flu;
  • effective treatment for the flu;
  • faster recovery from the flu; or
  • supports your body's natural immune defenses to fight off the flu.

The FDA wants American patients to know the online pharmacies offer discounted versions of the anti-viral treatment Tamiflu may be marketing counterfeit versions of the treatment, and offers these warning signs of how to spot a fake online pharmacy:

Beware of online pharmacies that:

  • allow you to buy prescription medicine without a prescription from your healthcare provider;
  • do not have a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions;
  • offer very low prices that seem too good to be true; or
  • are located outside of the U.S. or ship worldwide.

These pharmacies often sell medicines that can be dangerous because they may:

  • have too much or too little of the active ingredient you need to treat your disease or condition;
  • not contain the right active ingredient; or
  • contain wrong or other harmful ingredients.

The CDC Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending March 10th notes that Influenza is still widespread throughout the United States, though new cases are dropping off since the peak of late January/early February.