The fall and winter flu season may bring out dishonest sellers hawking fraudulent products to unsuspecting consumers, who are already concerned about protecting themselves from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and other infectious diseases.
Some of these sellers offer unproven products that claim to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu even though they have not been evaluated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. These products might be dangerous to you and your family. The FDA urges consumers to avoid fraudulent flu products and offers some tips on how to spot them.
These products can be found online, including popular marketplaces, and in retail stores. They may be labeled as dietary supplements, foods, hand sanitizers, nasal sprays, or devices.
A Flu Vaccine Is the Best Prevention
Flu is a serious disease, caused by influenza viruses, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent this infectious disease and its serious complications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all people, ages 6 months and older, get vaccinated against influenza – particularly those at an increased risk for serious complications, including young children, adults 65 years and older, and those with chronic medical conditions. For more information on vaccines, immunization and where to get vaccinated, visit www.vaccines.gov.
The FDA has approved vaccines for the prevention of influenza. And if you do get the flu, there are FDA-approved antiviral drugs, available by prescription, to treat the illness. These medicines are recommended by the CDC for use against recently circulating influenza viruses. They work best if started soon after the onset of symptoms (within 48 hours).
Flu antiviral medications are used to prevent or treat flu and are available by prescription in the form of pills, liquids, inhalers, and intravenous infusion. The various products are all approved for adult use and differ in the ages for which they are approved to treat children, ranging from 2-weeks-old to age 12.
If you get the flu, antiviral medications can make your illness milder and may make you feel better faster. Antiviral medications work best when started within the first two days of getting sick.
If you are exposed to the flu, antiviral medication can help prevent you from becoming sick. Talk to your health care provider if you have been or may be near a person with the flu.
Types of Fraudulent Flu and Antiviral Products
There are no legally marketed over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu. But there are legal over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to reduce fever and to relieve muscle aches, congestion, and other symptoms typically associated with the flu.
Dietary supplements, conventional foods (such as herbal teas), or devices (such as certain air filters and light therapies) that fraudulently claim to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the flu haven’t been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the same types of unproven products have been offered for sale with fraudulent claims to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure COVID-19. Some products are sold with claims about antiviral effects, and others make claims about preventing or treating viral infections.
The FDA is particularly concerned that these fraudulent products might cause people to delay, forgo, or stop the medical treatment they need, leading to serious and life-threatening harm. The ingredients in them could lead to unexpected side effects and interactions with other medications people may be taking.