December 13, 2005

U.S. FDA Warns Makers of ‘Bogus’ Flu Remedies

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday it had warned nine companies to stop marketing "bogus" flu products.

The products, including capsules that allegedly contain bacteria from dirt and other assorted immune system "boosters," all claim or claimed to help prevent or treat avian flu.

"FDA is not aware of any scientific evidence that demonstrates the safety or effectiveness of these products for treating or preventing avian flu and the agency is concerned that the use of these products could harm consumers or interfere with conventional treatments," the agency said in a statement.

"The use of unproven flu cures and treatments increases the risk of catching and spreading the flu rather than lessening it because people assume they are protected and safe and they aren't," said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, acting FDA commissioner.

"I consider it a public health hazard when people are lured into using bogus treatments based on deceptive or fraudulent medical claims."

All of the companies sell via Internet Web sites and the FDA complained about several claims, including "prevents avian flu," "a natural virus shield," "kills the virus," and "treats the avian flu."

Most are promoted as being "natural" or "safer" treatments that can be used in place of approved drugs.

"In the Warning Letters, FDA advises the firms that it considers their products to be drugs because they claim to treat or prevent disease," the FDA said.

The H5N1 avian influenza is not yet spreading among people. It is affecting flocks of ducks and poultry, as well as some other birds, in several Asian countries as well as Romania and Ukraine.

It occasionally affects people and has killed 71 people out of the 138 known to have been infected. Experts fear it will mutate into a form easily passed from person to person and will cause a global pandemic.

Two FDA-approved drugs work to treat avian influenza but they are in short supply. There are no real alternatives.

The FDA found nine different Web sites claiming to offer remedies.

One it cites is Sacred Mountain Management Inc. whose Web site at offers a "probiotic" supplement containing beneficial bacteria.

"Avian flu prevention? The best defense I know of against the Avian flu is for Nature's Biotics to stimulate your body to produce a vast reservoir of uncoded antibodies ready to attack any new, unknown virus that comes your way," the site claims.

"The soil-based organisms in Nature's Biotics are able to stimulate the immune system in such a way as to help ward off attacks from mutated forms of the influenza virus (such as the Avian flu)," it says.

The site's owner, Sally Robinson of Colorado, did not immediately answer a telephone call.

Another Web site,, had removed references to avian flu for its supplement Immutril by Tuesday afternoon. The company also offers remedies for joint pain, wrinkles and weight loss.