The Food and Drug Administration is warning people to be aware of fraudulent or unapproved flu medicines.
Officials say the worst of the nation's flu season might be over, but the FDA issued a news release that reminds consumers that there are no legally marketed over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure the flu.
The severity of the year's flu season, the agency said, raises new concerns about the risk of consumers buying unproven flu treatments or purchasing counterfeit antivirals from illegitimate online pharmacies.
"We understand the toll this year's flu season has taken on peoples' lives," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement. "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."
The year's flu season started early and was widespread across large swaths of the U.S. by December. It appeared to reach peak levels in January, but then continued to surge around the country. Federal health officials said Friday that the nation's nasty bout of illness was not nearly finished, but had finally begun to fade, according to The Associated Press.
According to the FDA, red flags that an over-the-counter medication might be fake include medicines that claim they: reduce severity and length of the flu; boost your immunity naturally without a flu shot; are safe and effective alternatives to the flu vaccine; prevent catching the flu; are effective treatments for the flu; offer faster recovery from the flu or support your body's natural immune defenses to fight off the flu.
The FDA also warns consumers against online pharmacies that claim to sell prescription antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, at reduced prices or without a prescription.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported that 18 people died from the flu last week, and along with 35 deaths attributed to the flu from previous weeks, the death toll for 2017-2018 has reached 253.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said that the latest deaths bring the state's total number of flu deaths to 167 since the flu season began in October.
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