Fraudulent OTC Flu Treatments Taking Advantage Of Bad Season of Illnesses, FDA Warns

This year’s flu season has been one of the worst in recent years, with many hospitals higher-than-expected numbers of illnesses, which may be causing some consumers to turn to over-the-counter flu treatments that may not be safe, federal regulators warn. 

The FDA issued a safety warning March 2, advising against the use of fraudulent and unapproved flu treatments, warning that these over-the-counter (OTC) products are not approved by the agency and are unproven to cure the flu.

Many of the products are sold online via websites or online pharmacies that appear to be legitimate. However, the products often contain incorrect ingredients, ingredients in incorrect dosages, or may contain harmful ingredients. There are no legally marketed OTC drugs to prevent or cure the flu.

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The only OTC drugs available are used to treat symptoms of the flu. These drugs are the same types of medications sold at a local drugstore. Those drugs include medications used to reduce fever, prevent muscle aches, congestions, and other symptoms associated with the flu.

The agency indicates that the alert was issued as part of an effort to protect consumers from health fraud. Consumers should be especially wary of any products which are unapproved.

If you are sick with the flu, or at risk for complications from the flu, health officials recommend that consumers seek medical treatment from a doctor as soon as possible. Only a doctor can prescribe effective and approved antiviral treatments.

The FDA warns consumers to beware of products sold online that claim to

  • Reduce the severity and length of the flu.
  • Boost immunity naturally without a flu shot.
  • Be safe and effective alternatives to the flu vaccine.
  • Prevent you from catching the flu.
  • Be an effective treatment for the flu.
  • Offer faster recovery from the flu.
  • Support the body’s natural immune defenses to fight off the flu.

“This year the flu has been widespread, impacting millions of patients across the country, and leading to a new record number of flu-related hospitalizations,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “We understand the toll this year’s flu season has taken on peoples’ lives. 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 agency warned health fraud scams, like these, waste money and lead to delays in getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. It can also lead to serious injury or death.

While the FDA has taken action against many companies selling unapproved products of all kinds, there are still many being sold to consumers. In fact, some companies move marketing operations to new websites to avoid detection.

Some online pharmacies claim to sell prescription antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu, at reduced prices or without the need for a doctor’s prescription. However, these are often fake, unsafe, or ineffective.

Consumers should be wary of online pharmacies that allow you to buy prescription medications without a prescription from a doctor, do not have a U.S. state licensed pharmacist to answer questions, offer pricing that is too good to be true, and are located outside U.S. or ship worldwide.


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