The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday warned consumers to avoid buying medicines online to treat swine flu, saying one such product contained nothing more than talc and over-the-counter fever-reducer.
The FDA raised the warning after some of its investigators purchased and analyzed products represented online as Tamiflu (oseltamivir), one of the anti-viral medicines that has been shown to be effective against A(H1N1) flu.
"One of the orders, which arrived in an unmarked envelope with a postmark from India, consisted of unlabeled, white tablets taped between two pieces of paper," the food and drug safety watchdog said.
"The tablets were found to contain talc and acetaminophen (paracetamol), but none of the active ingredient oseltamivir," it said.
In buying several of the products, the FDA investigators were not asked to produce a doctor's prescription.
The two antiviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment and prophylaxis of the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus, Tamiflu and Relenza, require prescriptions.
"Medicines purchased from websites 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," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
Patients who buy prescription drugs from websites run an "increased risk of suffering life-threatening adverse events, such as side effects from inappropriately using prescription medications, dangerous drug interactions, contaminated drugs, and impure or unknown ingredients found in unapproved drugs," the FDA said.
Bogus drugs are more common in times of a public health emergency, such as an influenza outbreak, when unlicensed manufacturers take advantage of high demand for medications and try to turn a quick profit, the FDA warned.