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Feds Warn Merchants Against Coronavirus Treatment Claims

Health scams are popping up as the coronavirus 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 the 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 made by 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.

Dr. 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 Inc.; and The Jim Bakker Show.

In a letter sent to Herbal Amy 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 1 in people."

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

FDA 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 the 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.

Marisa Peñaloza
Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.