The US Food and Drug Administration has found at least 20 websites that may be marketing products fraudulently with claims that they guard against or cure swine flu, an agency official said.
The FDA has publicly rebuked one such site - rebuildermedical.com - for offering a $199 "SilverCure Swine Flu Protection Pack" that includes shampoo, lotion, conditioner and soap that supposedly deposit traces of silver.
"Everything you need to protect yourself and family," the website says. But the FDA says no silver-based products have been approved for swine flu treatment or prevention, so it is illegal to claim such benefits.
Alyson Saben, who heads a new FDA swine flu consumer fraud team, said that ReBuilderMedical Technologies will have 48 hours to take corrective action or face criminal or regulatory action from the FDA.
A phone message and email to the company were not immediately returned.
Officials on the new swine fraud team working during the weekend found at least 20 other sites peddling products for swine flu accompanied by potentially fraudulent claims, Saben said.
She would not identify the other sites until the agency investigates their claims and makes a decision about their accuracy. But she said they were products such as antiviral medications being sold without a doctor's prescription, dietary supplements with exaggerated claims and flu diagnostic and protection kits.
"Unfortunately we see that these deceptive products are being offered, and by purveyors of products that take advantage of the public's concerns about the virus," Saben said. "FDA will consider whatever means are necessary and available to us to stop the marketing immediately of unapproved, uncleared or unauthorised products."
The FDA is asking members of the public to notify the agency when they encounter potentially fraudulent products. Tips can be submitted here.
Forms of silver like ionic silver or colloidal silver, none approved for swine flu, are nonetheless easy to find online accompanied by claims that they fight or prevent the new flu.
A website called swineflugone.com is selling a spritzer bottle with a concoction of ionic silver, echinecea, eucalyptus and spearmint and claiming it will "Stop Swine Flu in Its Tracks."
Another site, flu-watch.org, claims to disclose "What the CDC won't tell you that just may save your life." Colloidal silver is offered as a lifesaving cure.
Other sites are selling the antiviral Tamiflu apparently without requiring a doctors' prescriptions, or expensive kits of surgical masks, gloves, and anti-bacterial wipes and gels.
Surgical masks and gloves are medical devices and must have FDA approval.
But even if the items themselves being sold are FDA-approved, the claims being made about them may not be accurate, Saben said.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend widespread use of face masks, saying only that they may be useful, along with other measures, for people who may be in close contact with people who may have flu. Surgical gloves are only recommended for people like first responders having direct contact with ill people.