Since H1N1 began spreading in humans in April numerous websites have set up offering products, including vaccines, shampoos and gloves, that claim to prevent or treat swine flu.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sought to warn consumers about the ineffectiveness, and potential dangers, of buying unapproved products.
In its latest warning the FDA bought products online that claimed to be Tamiflu. One of these orders arrived in an unmarked envelope with a postmark from India and contained unlabeled, white tablets taped between two pieces of paper.
Following analysis of the tablets the agency found they contained talc and acetaminophen but none of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) oseltamivir. The website disappeared shortly after the FDA placed the order.
Various levels of oseltamivir were found in the other products bought online but none were approved by the FDA. No prescription was needed to buy several of the products and they failed to arrive quickly enough to treat someone infected with H1N1.
Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner, explained: "Medicines purchased from web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient."
The agency went on to warn that patients buying drugs from illegal websites are at increased risk of suffering life-threatening adverse events. These events can be caused by drug interactions, contaminated products and impure or unknown ingredients.
In addition to publishing press releases the FDA is attempting to reach consumers by creating a widget that allows users to view a list of fraudulent products and report suspicious websites.