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MONDAY, March 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. officials are cracking down on companies selling fraudulent products that claim to prevent or treat the new coronavirus.
Seven companies -- whose goods range from essential oils to colloidal silver -- were sent warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the FDA said Monday.
"The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an agency news release.
"We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one," he added.
The warning letters were sent to: Vital Silver; Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.; Xephyr LLC doing business as N-Ergetics; GuruNanda, LLC; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show.
Besides essential oils and colloidal silver, the products in question include teas and tinctures. These unapproved drugs pose significant health risks and violate federal law, the FDA noted.
Colloidal silver isn't safe or effective for treating any condition, the FDA has said in the past.
Products that falsely claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 may lead people to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, resulting in serious and life-threatening harm, the FDA warned.
"We understand consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and urge them to talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness. We will continue to aggressively pursue those that place the public health at risk and hold bad actors accountable," Hahn said.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 reached the United States, some consumers have also faced much higher-than-normal prices for products such as face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes.
Online sales of virus protection products have spiked 817% in the last two months, and prices have skyrocketed, CBS News reported.
There is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus, said Joe Simons, FTC chair.
"What we don't need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We're prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam," Simons added.
The companies that received the warning letters have 48 hours to outline steps taken to correct the violations. Companies selling products that falsely claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 may face legal action, including seizure or injunction.
The FDA and FTC also said they'll continue to monitor social media, online marketplaces and complaints to help ensure that the companies do not continue to sell bogus products under a different company name or on another website.
The FDA has created a cross-agency task force to closely monitor for fraudulent products related to COVID-19.
-- Robert Preidt
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