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FDA warns consumers against unapproved and fraudulent flu treatments

Consumers have been warned about certain unapproved products claiming to prevent, treat or cure the flu. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urged consumers to be wary of online pharmacies and other retailers claiming to sell flu cures not reviewed and approved by the agency. 

“We’re advising consumers on some of the telltale signs to look for when trying to spot flu products that may be fraudulent. All of us must also continue to be diligent in doing our part to prevent the spread of flu however possible,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. 

“People who are sick with flu-like symptoms and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications should see a healthcare professional as soon as possible to see if they should be treated with antiviral drugs,” he added. 

The FDA clarified that while there may no legal over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu, many legal OTC medications are available to treat the symptoms of the flu, which include muscle aches, nasal congestion, and fever. The FDA warned consumers that online products claiming to prevent, cure, or treat the flu are fraudulent if they have not been evaluated for that use by the agency.

Be wary of claims a drug will:

  • Reduce the severity or length of the flu. 
  • Boost immunity to the virus without a flu vaccination. 
  • Offer a safe and effective alternative to vaccination. 
  • Prevent patients from catching the flu. 
  • Offer an effective treatment for the flu.
  • Decrease the recovery time required.
  • Support the body’s natural immunity to the flu.  

The FDA also warned consumers against online pharmacies allowing patients to purchase prescription medication without a prescription from a physician or healthcare provider. Not having a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist to answer questions, offering extremely low prices seemingly “too good to be true”, being based outside of the country, and offering to ship internationally were also highlighted as possible signs of a fraudulent online pharmacy.

While there may be many legitimate online pharmacies, consumers purchasing from fraudulent retailers run the risk of taking medication with too much or too little of the active ingredient needed to treat their condition. Furthermore, the FDA warned that medicine may not contain the right active ingredient and may instead contain potentially harmful ingredients. 

Some FDA-approved OTC medications to reduce flu symptoms

  • Pseudoephedrine is an effective treatment for congestion.
  • Acetaminophen can alleviate muscle aches and reduce fever. 
  • Nyquil (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine) contains a cough suppressant, antihistamine, and analgesic. Cold & Flu combination medications such as these combine drugs to reduce a variety of flu symptoms. 

Vaccines are available to provide immunization against the flu and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for all persons aged 6 months and older. In the recent flu season, early vaccine effectiveness estimates from the CDC reveal that the flu vaccine has reduced the risk of patients needing a doctor’s visit due to flu by 36 percent. The data indicates the efficacy of the latest vaccines was 34 percent against type A viruses and 56 percent against type B viruses.