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MailTribune.com
  • Swine flu snake oil is spreading online

  • Battling the H1N1 flu pandemic may not be so tough after all. That is, if you believe the marketing claims of companies who say they have developed products that can cure, treat or prevent the notorious influenza virus.
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  • Battling the H1N1 flu pandemic may not be so tough after all. That is, if you believe the marketing claims of companies who say they have developed products that can cure, treat or prevent the notorious influenza virus.
    The feared resurgence of the H1N1 virus has brought with it a plethora of Web sites offering everything from air purifiers, herbal supplements, inhalers and even body washes said to prevent or cure infection with the virus.
    To jittery consumers, the idea of buying a shampoo that can protect from H1N1 infection might sound appealing. But there is no solid scientific evidence to back up any of those claims, according to health officials.
    "Epidemics and widespread public fear are the perfect ground for those types of claims to be taken seriously because people are frightened," said Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Canada.
    Make no mistake: There are ways to help prevent the spread of influenza. Public health experts advise everyone to wash their hands often and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
    But consumers who go online to buy pills or potions in hopes of preventing or treating H1N1 will likely find the products are only effective at creating lighter wallets.
    One company, Traditional Chinese Medicine Discovery Group, sells four different "prescriptions" as well as an herbal tea consisting of various herbs and extracts for the prevention of H1N1.
    The company couldn't be reached for comment — a phone number listed on its Web site automatically disconnects after it's dialed.
    Another product being sold online, called Flugonazol, is described as the "best help for prevention and fight against the dangerous swine flu or any other strain of influenza."
    The company's products come in formulations for adults, children and seniors and are sold for about $200 a bottle.
    The company could not be reached this week.
    Although there are no proven treatments for H1N1 available for purchase online, consumers might be fooled into thinking these products have been approved for use by a government agency or health body.
    Some products, such as face masks, may even do more harm than good.
    Experts say masks may not prevent the spread of flu in the general public because many people wear them incorrectly.
    In addition, people can increase their risk of infection by becoming contaminated with the virus when taking masks on or off.
    Masks are often used in a public-health setting, and health care workers may tell those with H1N1 or symptoms of the virus to wear a mask to prevent spreading it to others.
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has developed a comprehensive list of Web sites and companies selling various gels, kits, supplements, sprays and other unauthorized products that make unsubstantiated claims about H1N1 protection or treatment.
    Dozens of companies contacted by the FDA have changed or modified their Web sites after being contacted, according to the agency.
    But new sites continue to pop up and individual products are posted on a daily basis on online retail sites such as Alibaba.com, making it difficult for authorities to find those who are illegally marketing H1N1-related products.
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