Health Canada advises consumers against counterfeit and unapproved avian flu products
Health Canada is advising consumers not to purchase products claiming to fight or prevent avian flu. There are currently no products authorized for sale in Canada that are indicated specifically for the treatment of avian flu.
Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread easily and quickly among birds. A strain of avian influenza, H5N1, is currently circulating in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa and infecting poultry. This strain of influenza is highly pathogenic, meaning it is highly deadly to birds.
This H5N1 avian influenza virus has also infected a limited number of people (about 200 people worldwide since 2003), but there is no evidence that the virus spreads directly from person to person. The exact way by which the virus spreads from birds to people is not known, but most human cases of avian flu have been traced to direct contact with live infected birds or their droppings.
Influenza is caused by a virus and Health Canada wants to reiterate that antibiotics are not effective against viruses. The overuse or inappropriate use of drugs such as antibiotics is believed to promote resistance of bacteria to these drugs, mang it increasingly difficult to treat people with infections.
Antivirals such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which is authorized in Canada, can be effective in preventing influenza or in helping individuals who have already contracted the disease. Antivirals should only be purchased with a prescription from a health care practitioner who has examined the patient.
Consumers should not purchase products claiming to be “generic” Tamiflu as there is no authorized generic version of this drug. They should also be extremely cautious if they choose to buy Tamiflu over the Internet. While legitimate Canadian Internet pharmacies are a purchasing option to consider, consumers should be aware of the risks associated with buying drugs online and should note that it is illegal for consumers to import prescription drugs purchased over the Internet from another country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued warning letters to nine American companies marketing products making unproven claims that they treat or prevent avian flu or other forms of influenza. Many of the products involved were marketed as dietary supplements and mislead consumers with fraudulent claims such as: “prevents avian flu”, “contains a natural virus shield”, “kills the virus” or “treats the avian flu”.
Unapproved and counterfeit products are potentially harmful for consumers. These products may contain active ingredients not listed on the label or dangerous additives, and could cause adverse drug interactions or side effects.
Consumers concerned that they may have purchased counterfeit drugs should consult a health care provider. If a drug is confirmed as counterfeit, the consumer should contact the RCMP. Counterfeiting pharmaceuticals is a criminal activity that poses serious risks to the health and safety of Canadians. Further information with respect to the investigation of counterfeit products can be found at: www.rcmp.ca/fio/intellectual_e.htm.
Canadians with questions or complaints about drugs purchased over the Internet can call Health Canada’s toll-free line at 1-800-267-9675.
For information on avian flu and on minimizing the risk of contracting any type of influenza, consumers can consult one of the following articles:
Health Canada issued an advisory about the online purchase of Tamiflu on December 23, 2005. It is available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/advisories-avis/2005/2005_137_e.html