Ultraviolet lights that destroy the H1N1 virus. Herbal sprays that disrupt molecules. Vitamins to superboost immunity. Even a $580 men’s suit from Japan that is claimed to cut the chance of contracting the deadly virus by 40 percent because of a combination of titanium dioxide and the sun’s UV rays.
The fears of a global H1N1 flu epidemic have given rise to a whole new industry: products claimed to diagnose, prevent or cure the illness.
Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say they have been hearing of new and unproven products every day since the first cases of swine flu appeared in the spring. As of last week, they have warned more than 75 Web sites selling more than 140 products, said Alyson Saben, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of Enforcement.
“There are a large amount of fraudulent products out there,” she said. “They run the gamut from supplements to drugs to medical devices. There is a quite a variety, but what they all have in common is they will not prevent transmission or offer a remedy.”
Ms. Saben says companies making those claims may end up making people’s illness worse by giving them a false sense of security and delaying them from seeking treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection reports that there is widespread H1N1 activity in 46 states, including Maryland and Virginia. Localized H1N1 cases have been reported in the District. Through the end of last week, more than 1,000 people nationally have died from the illness, including 86 children.
The CDC says the best way to control the spread of flu, both seasonal and H1N1, is to wash hands often, sneeze into one’s sleeve and stay away from others who are sick (or, if you are sick, stay away from others who aren’t). There are just two types of antivirals approved to treat the flu, Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza).
However, that has not stopped a host of companies from trying to sell products to fight the flu. One company receiving a warning letter was Andrew Weil LLC, the business headed by the well-known alternative-medicine physician. Drweil.com was cited, said the letter from the FDA, because of Web site claims that supplements, which are “unapproved/uncleared/unauthorized” products, could “diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat or cure” the H1N1 flu virus in human beings.
Dr. Weil said in an Oct. 20 statement that the language on the Web site has since been changed in order to be in compliance.
“Many of the outlets on the list promoted products that were unethical and clearly egregious violations of FDA standards, including counterfeit versions of pharmaceuticals such as Tamiflu,” he said. “Weil Lifestyle, LLC, the company that sells vitamins and herbal supplements under my name, has never made or marketed a product of that nature.”
Ms. Saben says more than 80 percent of Web sites cited have complied by removing or modifying the claims. “In some cases, the products no longer exist,” she says.
For the holdouts, penalties include seizure of the products and criminal charges.
Rear Adm. Anne Schuchat, a physician and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says she appreciates the FDA’s efforts to crack down on false claims.
“I’m not aware of any of those alternative treatments that are proving effective,” she said. “This is no time to take advantage of the public.”
Meanwhile, the FDA is asking for the public’s help in cracking down on questionable products. Flu.gov, the Web site sponsored by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shows which companies have been cited and has a link for visitors to report the claims of other H1N1 products.View Entire Story
Karen Goldberg Goff has been a reporter at The Washington Times since 1992. She currently writes feature-length stories on a variety of topics, including family issues, pop culture, health, food and technology. Follow Karen on Twitter.
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