GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - With flu anxiety at an all time high, officials say several online companies are trying to cash in on flu fears.
The number of hospitalized flu cases in the U.S. is on the rise -- as of Monday, the Mesa County Health Department was reporting 51. H1N1 vaccines are in short supply and many health departments are still playing catchup to vaccinate high priority groups.
President Obama recently declared a national emergency to help deal with the H1N1 flu -- so officials say it's easy to see why many people are concerned. But they're urging the public not to let those fears feed into being scammed by online companies.
An herbal tea that "will prevent H1N1," an "Anti-H1N1" soap, an air purification system that "kills" the H1N1 virus... all pop up with a Google search.
"There are things out there, people who are trying to take advantage of this and trying to make a profit off of people's fears," says Kristy Emerson, spokesperson for the Mesa County Health Department.
The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to consumers about unauthorized products that claim to prevent, mitigate, treat, or even cure the H1N1 influenza. It also released a list of dozens of products and companies it and the Federal Trade Commission have sent letters to, threatening legal action and criminal charges if they don't take the claims down.
Another problem officials say they've run into is online companies selling fake Tamiflu pills. Tamiflu is an anti-viral medication the FDA has approved to help prevent and lessen the symptoms of H1N1. Officials say the real version of the drug can only be prescribed by a doctor and can only be purchased at a pharmacy.
"Don't try to find it online," says Emerson. "You might be doing more harm than good."
They say when it comes to protecting yourself against the flu, the only thing the Internet is good for is information.
"Really the single best thing you can do is get vaccinated when it's available," says Emerson. "Second to that is hand washing."
The FDA says its employees are actively searching the internet for fraudulent H1N1 products but it's also relied on reports from the public.
Officials say of the Web sites contacted, more than 80 percent of them have since removed their H1N1 claims.
For more information on fraudulent H1N1 products or to learn how you can report online companies, click on the link below.