collage of three photos: woman sitting cross-legged holding head while looking a thermometer, pharmacist reading prescription & holding medicine bottle, man looking at open laptop while blowing his nose with glass of water & used tissues on table

The fall & winter flu season may bring out dishonest sellers hawking fraudulent products to unsuspecting consumers, who are already concerned about protecting themselves from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) & other infectious diseases.

Some of these sellers offer unproven products that claim to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu even though they have not been evaluated or approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for safety & effectiveness. These products might be dangerous to you & your family. The FDA urges consumers to avoid fraudulent flu products & offers some tips on how to spot them.

These products can be found online, including popular marketplaces, & in retail stores. They may be labeled as dietary supplements, foods, hand sanitizers, nasal sprays, or devices.

A Flu Vaccine Is the Best Prevention

Flu is a serious disease, caused by influenza viruses, that can lead to hospitalization & even death. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent this infectious disease & its serious complications.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend that all people, ages 6 months & older, get vaccinated against influenza – particularly those at an increased risk for serious complications, including young children, adults 65 years & older, & those with chronic medical conditions. For more information on vaccines, immunization & where to get vaccinated, visit

The FDA has approved vaccines for the prevention of influenza. & if you do get the flu, there are FDA-approved antiviral drugs, available by prescription, to treat the illness. These medicines are recommended by the CDC for use against recently circulating influenza viruses. They work best if started soon after the onset of symptoms (within 48 hours).

Flu antiviral medications are used to prevent or treat flu & are available by prescription in the form of pills, liquids, inhalers, & intravenous infusion. The various products are all approved for adult use & differ in the ages for which they are approved to treat children, ranging from 2-weeks-old to age 12.

  • If you get the flu, antiviral medications can make your illness milder & may make you feel better faster. Antiviral medications work best when started within the first two days of getting sick.
  • If you are exposed to the flu, antiviral medication can help prevent you from becoming sick. Talk to your health care provider if you have been or may be near a person with the flu.

Types of Fraudulent Flu & Antiviral Products

There are no legally marketed over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu. But there are legal over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to reduce fever & to relieve muscle aches, congestion, & other symptoms typically associated with the flu.

Dietary supplements, conventional foods (such as herbal teas), or devices (such as certain air filters & light therapies) that fraudulently claim to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the flu haven’t been evaluated by the FDA for safety & effectiveness.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the same types of unproven products have been offered for sale with fraudulent claims to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure COVID-19. Some products are sold with claims about antiviral effects, & others make claims about preventing or treating viral infections.

The FDA is particularly concerned that these fraudulent products might cause people to delay, forgo, or stop the medical treatment they need, leading to serious & life-threatening harm. The ingredients in them could lead to unexpected side effects & interactions with other medications people may be taking.

Protect yourself & your family by being on the lookout for potentially fraudulent flu & antiviral products being sold without a prescription, which may claim to:

  • Reduce the severity & length of flu or other viral infections.
  • Boost your immunity naturally without a flu vaccine.
  • Act as a safe & effective alternative to the flu vaccine.
  • Prevent catching the flu or viral infections.
  • Be an effective treatment for flu or viral infections.
  • Provide faster recovery from the flu or viral infections.
  • Support your body’s natural immune defenses to fight off flu or other viruses.

Find Out if Your Online Pharmacy Is Safe

Websites appearing to be online pharmacies selling prescription drugs present an opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Legitimate online pharmacies do exist. But so do many websites that look like safe online pharmacies but are actually fraudulent & engaging in illegal activity. These websites may be selling unapproved drugs.

Unsure about an online pharmacy? Visit the FDA’s BeSafeRx to learn how to safely buy prescription medicines online. If you have a question about a treatment or product, talk to your health care provider or doctor.