Bogus SARS Prevention Products: Buyer Beware

Last Editorial Review: 5/12/2003

Our SARS news today does not concern the latest number of cases but the fact that bogus SARS treatments are being offered on the Internet. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued warnings to 40 Web sites. These sites offer therapies ranging from dietary supplements to medical devices, in spite of the fact that: "There is no approved treatment or diagnostic test for SARS."

Our Comment: "Let the buyer beware." The best prevention against SARS is good hygiene, including washing hands. And you can't buy that on the Internet.

For additional information please visit the following areas:

  • Health Fraud - How To Spot It
  • Buying Medicine and Medical Products Online
  • SARS (article)
  • SARS Center
  • SARS, Prevention and Protection
  • SARS to Stop, or Here to Stay?
  • SARS Virus Identified

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

FTC and FDA Crackdown on Internet Marketers of Bogus SARS Prevention Products

Deceptive and Misleading Claims Must be Removed Immediately

The Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are warning Web site operators, manufacturers and distributors who suggest that their products will protect against, treat, or even cure Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), that they are aware of no scientific proof for such claims and that the Web site operators must remove any misleading or deceptive claims from the Internet. A coordinated Internet "surf" found 48 sites touting a wide variety of SARS treatment or prevention products. The FTC also retrieved seven promotions for SARS products from its spam database. The two agencies sent warnings to Web site operators, and e mail solicitors, cautioning that it is against the law to make claims about SARS protection or treatment, or any other health benefit, without rigorous scientific support. FDA has sent 8 warning letters to manufacturers and distributors who are making misleading claims. The FTC and FDA staff will follow up by revisiting the targeted sites to determine whether the Web site operators have deleted or revised unproven claims.

The warning campaign is based on information gathered through an Internet surf that the FTC coordinated with the help of the FDA and the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. Included in the review were Web sites that promised consumers would be protected from SARS if they purchased such items as personal air purifiers, disinfectant sprays and wipes, respirator masks, latex gloves, dietary supplements like colloidal silver and oregano oil, and SARS "prevention kits" that package various items together, such as gloves, masks and wipes. Web sites may be subject to state or federal investigation or prosecution for making deceptive or misleading marketing claims that their products can treat, prevent, or cure SARS. Firms or individuals who violate the FTC Act could be subject to a federal district court injunction, enforceable through civil or criminal contempt proceedings, or an administrative cease and desist order, enforceable through civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. Sellers also could be ordered to make consumer refunds. Operators who violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by marketing unapproved drugs are liable to injunction and seizure of the illegal products.

"Scam artists follow the headlines, trying to make a fast buck with products that play off the news," said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Our message to e marketers making deceptive claims is 'change your site to comply with the law.' At the same time, our message to consumers is 'hold on to your money.' No products have been found effective in preventing, treating or curing SARS."

In addition to the efforts of the FTC, FDA and other authorities to crack down on SARS related fraud, a broad coalition of trade associations representing the dietary supplement industry has issued a joint advisory recommending that marketers and retailers refrain from promoting dietary supplements as a preventive, cure, or treatment for SARS. According to that advisory, there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to prevent or treat SARS. The joint statement of the American Herbal Products Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition, National Nutritional Foods Association, and Utah Natural Products Alliance is available through those organizations web sites. "Consumers, government and responsible marketers and retailers share common ground. They all know there's no room for misleading claims about preventing, treating or curing SARS," Beales said.

The FTC issued a Consumer Alert entitled "Rx For Products That Claim To Prevent SARS? A Healthy Dose of Skepticism," produced in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA. The Alert advises consumers to:

  • Know the facts: SARS appears to spread most readily by cough or sneeze allowing droplets containing infectious virus to reach the respiratory tract of persons in close proximity. SARS also may be spread by touching contaminated objects and then touching your eye, nose or mouth.

  • Keep your hands clean: Public health authorities advise that basic personal hygiene is the best protection against the infection. Thorough hand washing with soap and water, or alcohol based hand sanitizers are recommended.

  • Check travel advisories for affected areas: To lower your risk of infection, the CDC suggests avoiding travel to affected regions.

  • Seek medical attention: If you think you may have SARS symptoms, or you have been in direct contact with someone with SARS, consult a health care professional immediately.

  • Stay informed: For more information from the federal government about SARS, visit the CDC or the FDA websites.

Portions of the above information has been provided by the Federal Drug Administration (


Allergies can best be described as: See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors