FDA warns against fraudulent, unapproved flu products

The worst of the nation's flu season might be over, but that isn't stopping the Food and Drug Administration from warning Americans: Don't fall prey to fraudulent or unapproved flu medicines.

The FDA issued a news release Friday reminding consumers that there are no legally marketed over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure influenza. The severity of the year's flu season, the agency said, raises new concerns about the risk of consumers buying unproven flu treatments or purchasing counterfeit antivirals from illegitimate online pharmacies.

"We understand the toll this year's flu season has taken on peoples' lives," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement. "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 year's flu season started early and was widespread across large swaths of the U.S. by December. It appeared to reach peak levels in January, but then continued to surge around the country. Federal health officials said Friday that the nation's nasty bout of illness was not nearly finished, but had finally begun to fade, according to The Associated Press.

"The season's not over but we're definitely on the downward trend right now," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director, per the AP.

Gottlieb on Friday warned consumers "to be alert" and wary of fake medicines that he said may be found online or in retail stores.

According to the FDA, red flags that an over-the-counter medication might be fake include medicines that claim they:

  • reduce severity and length of the flu;

  • boost your immunity naturally without a flu shot;

  • are safe and effective alternatives to the flu vaccine;

  • prevent catching the flu;

  • are effective treatments for the flu;

  • offer faster recovery from the flu; or

  • support your body's natural immune defenses to fight off the flu.

The FDA also warns consumers against online pharmacies that claim to sell prescription antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, at reduced prices or without a prescription. Such products might not contain the right active ingredient, contain too much or too little of it or contain other wrong or potentially harmful ingredients. The agency suggests that consumers buy prescription drugs from their local pharmacy or only through an online pharmacy that requires a valid prescription.

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