Questionable Bird Flu Remedies Uncovered
KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator
UPDATED: 6:33 pm PDT July 19, 2006
Some medical experts say a deadly bird flu pandemic is not a matter of if, but when.
And because of our wild bird migrations, the Puget Sound region could be especially vulnerable to a bird flu outbreak.
KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator Wayne Havrelly has a warning about those who are trying to exploit the situation.
If you think bird flu threatens only people in other countries, you'd be mistaken.
The danger is so real in Western Washington that Sea-Tac Airport has reserved an entire building to quarantine passengers who may become infected.
That danger inspires fear, and fear brings out the worst in Internet scams.
Snow geese: Tourists and locals flock to see them as they spend their winters in the fields of Whatcom County and the Skagit Valley.
They're beautiful. But if the Avian Bird Flu ever arrives in our state, it will likely be carried by these magnificent birds.
These very birds spend their summers in the breeding grounds of Russia and Asia before returning here.
"The thought is that if there's any avian influenza occurring in Asia, it's in wild bird populations -- birds that migrate through here, winter here, are likely to pick it up in the breeding grounds," said Lora Leschner, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Avian flu has been detected in 30 countries so far, though not in North America yet.
But that's certainly not stopping some herbal medicine companies from playing on people's bird flu fears.
Type "avian flu" or "bird flu" into a browser and you'll see site after site offering "avian flu protection kits," even "herbal alternatives" to Tamiflu, the only licensed drug that might be effective in treating Bird Flu.
But there's a problem.
"None of these products have any scientific evidence to show that they are safe and effective for the treatment of bird flu," said David Elder, with the FDA, the agency that regulates drugs in our country.
His agents recently seized 51 shipments of so-called "generic Tamiflu" from China that was being sold over the Internet here in the U.S.
The real and fake pills look alike, but the "generic Tamiflu"? It's actually vitamin C.
"There's no such thing as generic Tamiflu in this country," Elder said.
The FDA considers the sale of unapproved influenza-related products as a potentially significant threat to the public health
We found a site offering "an herbal alternative for Tamiflu" called "Avian RX," advertised as "the world's only natural weapon against Bird Flu".
"I would call this fraud," Elder said.
We tried to reach the president of Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals in Georgia, which makes Avian RX. He did not return our calls.
It turns out his company is already under investigation by the federal Department of Justice for selling dietary supplements containing ephredrine, a prescription stimulant.
Another Internet company is found at Birdflustopper.com, though even marketing director Gayla Young admitted to us its herbal medication doesn't really stop bird flu.
"It's actually not a cure for bird flu," Young said.
"There are no products currently approved that consumers can purchase over the internet that are approved for the treatment or prevention of the avian flu," said Elder.
Still, the possibility of a global pandemic of Avian flu is real and frightening.
With no proven vaccine available, we found many in Western Washington who are tempted by all the fraudulent claims on the net.
Starting next month, state Wildlife officials will begin testing returning wild birds for any evidence of Avian flu. They will also ask you to report any dead or dying birds you may find.
Our advice? Treat those Internet come-ons with a healthy dose of skepticism.