FDA and FTC crack down on coronavirus ‘fraudulent prevention and treatment claims’

The targeted products include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver.

There is no cure or treatment for covid-19, the federal authorities said. Treatments and vaccines are in the early stages of development and haven’t been fully tested for safety and effectiveness. The only treatment available is supportive care — such as providing oxygen for people who are having trouble breathing.

The companies receiving the letters included the Jim Bakker Show, which last week was warned by the New York attorney general about claims made on the show concerning a gel containing particles of the precious metal silver. The U.S. government and medical community have warned patients about all of the various silver solutions for years. The National Institutes of Health says colloidal silver — tiny particles of the metal suspended in a liquid meant for drinking as a dietary supplement — has not been proved effective as a medicine and can in fact be dangerous.

Lisa Landau, chief of the New York prosecutor’s health-care bureau, last week accused the Bakker show of making misleading claims and ordered it to stop.

The Bakker show did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday but in an earlier statement said it believed in its product “because of the research and the advice from medical professionals that we respect.” Bakker, a longtime televangelist and salesman, has been in trouble with the law before: He served more than four years in prison on federal fraud charges in the 1990s but has since rebuilt some of the empire he created with then-wife Tammy Faye Bakker.

Other companies warned by the FDA and the FTC were Guru Nanda; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy; Xephyr, doing business as N-Ergetics; Vital Silver and Quinessence Aromatherapy.

The warning letter to the Melbourne, Fla.-based Vital Silver, which sells essential oils and other products, cited a company Facebook post that read: “Wellness!! Vital Silver!!! Simple!!! Go on the offense this year against viruses including the Coronavirus — it’s simple!”

In the letter to Guru Nanda, which sells oils and is based in Buena Park, Calif., the agencies noted that the company said on its website: “Just what is this new Coronavirus, and how can you prevent and/or treat it? After reading this article, you’ll be well equipped and informed to decrease your chances of becoming infected.” The letter also said the company offered 50 percent off for its essential oils: “Simply type ‘Corona’ in the code box to save immediately.”

Guru Nanda and Vital Silver said they have removed information about the treatment or prevention of covid-19 from their websites.

Herbal Amy, based in Nampa, Idaho, claimed certain herbs could interrupt the process by which the coronavirus infects tissues. When asked for a comment, Amy Weidner, president of the firm, said in an email, “We sell herbs and within the herbal product description I simply quoted an herbalist. That quote has been removed to adhere to the FDA requirements.”

N-Ergetics, which was accused of touting colloidal silver products for covid-19, said in an email that it “has addressed all issues” pointed out by the letter from the FDA and the FTC.

The other companies that got letters did not respond to a request for comment.

By claiming their products treat the quickly spreading virus, the federal officials said, the companies may delay or prevent people from seeking appropriate care.

The agencies gave the companies 48 hours to describe the steps they are taking to correct the alleged violations. If they don’t comply, they may face further enforcement action, including the seizure of products, court injunctions and mandatory refunds for consumers.

The letters were mailed out Friday and announced Monday.

“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent covid-19 products to be a threat to the public health,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. FTC Chairman Joe Simons added that given the high anxiety over the virus, “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”

The agencies said they are monitoring social media, online marketplaces and incoming complaints to follow unapproved products.

Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

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