With flu outbreaks on the rise in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to be wary of over-the-counter products that promise to cure, prevent, or reduce the severity of influenza.
Vendors offering these products may make claims that are not accurate or safe, the FDA warns.
“These products can be found online, including popular markets, and in retail stores. They may be labeled as dietary supplements, foods, hand sanitizers, nasal sprays or devices,” according to an FDA news release.
Counterfeit products also include some herbal teas, certain air filters and mild remedies that claim to prevent or cure the flu, or treat symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and congestion.
Relying on these bogus products can cause people to delay, forgo or withhold medical treatment they need, which can cause serious and life-threatening harm, the FDA warned. The ingredients may also cause side effects and interact with other medications that people may be taking.
Websites selling these products may look like online pharmacies selling prescription drugs.
Legitimate online pharmacies exist, but there are many websites that look like safe online pharmacies and are actually scams.
Visit the FDA’s BeSafeRx campaign to learn how to safely buy prescription drugs online.
Homeopathic products also require some caution, and none are FDA-approved. They are usually labeled as containing very small amounts of highly diluted substances, including plant, animal or human sources, bacteria, minerals and chemicals.
Some of these products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients at levels that far exceed the amounts stated on the product’s label, the FDA warned. It can cause significant harm to children.
The best protection
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. This is especially important for those at risk of complications, including young children, adults age 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions.
The FDA has also approved some antiviral drugs to treat the flu. These are only available by prescription and work best within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. All products are approved for both teens and adults, and some are available for babies as young as 2 weeks old. They come in a variety of pills, liquids, inhalers and intravenous infusions.
Antiviral medications can make the illness milder. Talk to your healthcare professional if you have been close to someone with the flu or if you think you have the flu.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more seasonal flu vaccines.
Source: US Food and Drug Administration, news release, December 13, 2022
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