FDA Warns Of Fraudulent Flu Medications As Season Winds Down

Flu activity is down for the second week in a row in the United States, but as the flu season still has several weeks to go, the FDA has issued a warning about counterfeit flu medications.

For the second consecutive week, flu activity in the United States is down significantly according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but health officials say they expect flu activity to continue for several more weeks.

The CDC’s FluView report for week 8 ending February 24, 2018 notes that while 45 states and Puerto Rico are still reporting widespread influenza activity, other key indicators show a flu season past its peak and on the decline. This flu season has seen 23,324 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations around the country, although the overall rate of flu hospitalizations appears to be leveling off. The percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness fell from 6.4% during the previous week to 5.0%. After predominating most of the 2017-2018 flu season, influenza A (H3N2) has also continued to decline, as influenza B viruses make up 45.8% of the laboratory-confirmed influenza positive tests during week 8. The flu vaccine has performed better this season against B viruses than it has against A (H3N2).

The CDC reported 17 new pediatric flu deaths in week 8, bringing the total this season to a staggering 114. The last season to see more pediatric flu deaths was 2014-2015, which reported 148 deaths during the entire season. The antiviral prescription medication Tamiflu is recommended to treat and prevent the flu, but shortages of the antiviral prescription drug during this severe flu season have helped fuel counterfeit drug sales. Therefore, on March 2, 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a news release warning the public to be cautious of fraudulent products claiming to fight the flu, including counterfeit antiviral medications from websites claiming to be legitimate online pharmacies. The new warning says that there are no legally marketed over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure the flu. Products that have not been evaluated by the FDA for that intended use that are being sold with such a claim are fraudulent.

Legitimate online pharmacies do exist and will fill prescriptions, including Tamiflu, though the new warning encourages consumers to buy prescription drugs from local pharmacies. “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,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in the warning. The FDA is warning consumers to be alert, and try and steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which may be found online or in retail stores.”

As this flu season continues to ease, state health departments continue to issue local reports. The CDC does not collect overall flu death data for the country, though many individual states have reported data on flu deaths. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has reported 169 flu deaths in the state this season, 132 of which have occurred in adults ages 65 and older. California reported 12 new flu deaths in week 8, bringing the state’s flu deaths to 214 for the season. Meanwhile, in Texas, Dallas County alone has reported 74 flu-related deaths, while the Dallas-Fort Worth area has seen more than 130.