Feds warn merchants to not make coronavirus treatment claims

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FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn speaks on March 19 at a White House news conference on the coronavirus outbreak.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn at a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at the White House on March 19.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP via Getty Images

Health scams are popping up as the coronavirus health crisis grows around the country, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.

The agencies warn about the proliferation of fraudulent products that claim to test for coronavirus and prevent or cure COVID-19. The FDA has sent warning letters to seven manufacturers of therapy products including essential oils, nasal sprays and herbal concoctions.

The claims for these products not only violate federal law, but are a threat to public health. Immigrant populations seem to be a target, says FDA spokesperson Jeremy Kahn.

"These scammers know that ethnic groups who may not speak or read English well, or who hold certain cultural beliefs, can be easy targets. For example, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians and Africans may have a long tradition of turning to more herbal or so-called 'natural' remedies," says Kahn.

Leah Braun is a family physician at La Clínica del Pueblo which caters to Latinos in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area. She says the current crisis is worrisome, because "in our community it is very common to use home remedies or nonprescription medications for the treatment of common illnesses." She says she advises patients "to use caution any time they receive advertising about nonprescribed medications and to always contact their primary care doctor before taking any treatment."

The list of manufacturers who have received FDA warning letters include: 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.

In a letter sent to Amy Herbal Inc. the agency writes, "The FDA has determined that your website offers "Coronavirus Protocol" products (Coronavirus Boneset Tea, Coronavirus Cell Protection, Coronavirus Core tincture, Coronavirus Immune System, and Elderberry Tincture) for sale in the United States and that these products are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people."

At least one of these businesses, Vivify Holistic Clinic, has shut down its online shop.

Commissioner Stephen Hahn warns, "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."

There is growing anxiety about coronavirus that creates demand, but the FDA has not approved a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 – and there are limited test kits available.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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