The fall and winter flu season may bring out dishonest sellers hawking fraudulent products to unsuspecting consumers.
Some of these sellers illegally 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 for safety and effectiveness. 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.
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.
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 recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get vaccinated every year against influenza. This is particularly so for people 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 flu vaccine recommendations, visit this CDC page.
FDA-Approved Antiviral Medications for Flu
If you do get the flu, there are FDA-approved antiviral drugs, available by prescription from your health care professional, to treat it. There are several FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by the CDC for use against circulating influenza viruses. These drugs 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 adolescent and adult use, and they differ in the ages for which they are approved to treat infants and 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 professional if you have been or may be near a person with the flu.
If you think you have the flu, talk to your health care professional. There are FDA-approved drugs to help with the flu.
Types of Fraudulent Flu Products
There are no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC, or non-prescription) drugs to prevent, treat, or cure the flu. But there are legally marketed 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 some herbal teas), or devices (such as certain air filters and light therapies) that fraudulently claim to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.
The FDA is particularly concerned that 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 fraudulent products could lead to unexpected side effects and interactions with other medications people may be taking.
Protect yourself and your family by looking out for potentially fraudulent flu and antiviral products being sold without a prescription, which may claim to:
- Reduce the severity and length of flu or other viral infections.
- Boost your immunity naturally without a flu vaccine.
- Act as a safe and effective alternative to the flu vaccine.
- Prevent catching the flu or viral infections.
- Be an effective treatment for flu or viral infections.
- Provide faster recovery from the flu or viral infections.
- Support your body’s natural immune defenses to fight off flu or other viruses.
Find Out if Your Online Pharmacy Is Safe
Fraudsters take advantage of unsuspecting people through websites appearing to be online pharmacies selling prescription drugs.
Legitimate online pharmacies do exist. But so do many websites that look like safe online pharmacies but are actually fraudulent and engaging in illegal activity. These websites may be selling unapproved drugs that may be dangerous.
Unsure about an online pharmacy? Visit the FDA’s BeSafeRx campaign to learn how to safely buy prescription medicines online. If you have a question about a treatment or product, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.
There Are No FDA-Approved Homeopathic Products
At your pharmacy and online, you may see products being sold and advertised as homeopathic. The FDA is not aware of any proven benefits of these products.
Homeopathic products are generally labeled as containing very small amounts of highly diluted substances, including ingredients from plants, animal or human sources, bacteria, minerals, and chemicals. The FDA has found that some of these products contain active drug ingredients in levels that far exceed the amount stated on the product’s label and could cause significant harm to children. Therefore, we urge caution if you are thinking about giving homeopathic flu, cough, and cold medicines to children.
There are no FDA-approved homeopathic products. Homeopathic products sold in the U.S. have not been approved by the FDA for any use and may not meet modern standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality.