8th May 2009 -- Medicines being sold as treatments for swine flu by
unauthorised internet suppliers could be hazardous to health, the UK
drug-safety watchdog has warned. It says there is a risk that medicines not
supplied by a registered pharmacy could be substandard or counterfeit.
Online marketing of antiviral medicines is being produced by 'cyber
criminals' hoping to profit from the public's fears about swine flu, according
to the authorities. INTERPOL, the international police organisation, says that
around 4 percent of the billions of spam emails sent every day relate to H1N1
flu (swine flu). Many of these are likely to offer for sale the anti-flu
medicines oseltamivirand zanamivir.
Flu prevention tips
The most effective way to slow the spread of flu is to avoid passing along germs. The HPA recommends taking these simple steps:
Always wash your hands
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
Dispose of used tissues promptly
Clean hard surfaces frequently
Make sure children follow this advice
See more articles, news and more about the flu in the UK:
The World Health Organization estimates that half the medicines sold by
online pharmacies without a physical address are counterfeit. Counterfeit
products may contain no medicine, or even be made from harmful chemicals.
What should I do if I think I've been sold counterfeit medicines?
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) monitors drug
safety in the UK. If you think you've been given counterfeit medicines, you can
call their 24-hour hotline (020 7084 2701). You can also email them
You should also see your doctor as soon as possible to arrange replacement
medicines, if appropriate. If you've been having health problems that you think
may be due to taking a counterfeit medicine, make sure you tell your
Can I buy medicines online safely?
By law, pharmacies in the UK must register with the Royal Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). That includes internet pharmacies. You can
make sure a pharmacy is registered using the RPSGB's website
You can also check online pharmacies for the RPSG's registered pharmacy
logo, which has a green cross and the pharmacy's registration number.
Any legitimate UK pharmacist will require a doctor's prescription before it
will dispense oseltamivir or zanamivir.
How much will medicines help with swine flu?
Flu viruses constantly change. Because swine flu is a new strain, it's hard
to say how well treatments will work. Laboratory tests do show that the swine
flu virus is sensitive to the two main antiviral medicines, oseltamivir and
zanamivir. In previous trials against ordinary, seasonal flu, both oseltamivir
and zanamivir shortened people's illness by up to a day. They also reduced
people's chances of getting complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
You take oseltamivir as a capsule. Zanamivir comes as a type of spray you
breathe in. Both can cause side effects. Some people taking oseltamivir feel
sick or vomit. Zanamivir can cause diarrhoea.
Will a flu vaccine help?
Flu vaccines are made to protect against a particular strain of flu. The
vaccines we have already weren't made to protect against swine flu, so they
won't help. Making a completely new flu vaccine can take five to six
Scientists are currently working on a swine flu vaccine. Unfortunately,
making vaccines is a slow process, as flu viruses have to be grown inside
millions of chicken eggs. Manufacturers only have the capacity to make a
certain amount of vaccine.
Making large amounts of a swine flu vaccine would mean switching production
away from the seasonal flu vaccine. Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between
250,000 and 500,000 people a year. Health officials face a difficult choice
between making more doses of seasonal flu vaccine and producing a swine flu
vaccine. It's difficult to anticipate which one we'll be needing most in a few
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Press release:
Medicines regulator warns of dangers of obtaining online medicines for H1N1
influenza A. Available at
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