Companies tout health products for profits in wake of flu outbreak

With concerns swirling that swine flu could potentially reach pandemic level status, some companies and online sites are seizing on the opportunity to translate public fears into quick bucks.

With concerns swirling that swine flu could potentially reach pandemic level status, some companies and online sites are seizing on the opportunity to translate public fears into quick bucks.

A flurry of news releases and websites have popped up in the wake of the swine H1N1 influenza virus outbreak touting the virtues of certain products as preventative — and in some cases curative — tools in fighting swine flu. At present, there is no vaccine against the new flu strain.

One company sells colourful “flu fashion respirator masks” billed as medical grade and designed to filter out viral pathogens and protect the individual’s respiratory system in a pandemic environment.

Another touts a hand sanitizer lotion that has shown to be effective in killing the H1N1 swine flu virus, and stays on the skin and continues to kill germs after handwashing.

One website, Swine Flu Cure, is offering a “cure-all medicine” for $19.99 per dose. Another site is selling a “complete flu detox” for US$99 which says that while it is not a vaccine, it can prevent swine flu if individuals have been exposed.

While it’s one thing to take advantage of the fact that people suddenly care about your product, that’s very different than using it as an opportunity to prey on individuals who are afraid or worried, said Kyle Murray, director of the school of retailing at the University of Alberta.

“I think you have to be careful that your product is actually a product that’s relevant and you’re not just trying to squeeze yourself into the headlines,” said Murray, who is also an associate professor of marketing.

“If what you’re doing is just taking some time to talk to people about your product or service and you’re not misleading them or doing anything that’s clearly unethical …. that’s not likely to create any sort of backlash.”

Murray said the emergence or positioning of certain products or services is to be expected in the face of a big event that makes headlines, like the flu outbreak or the recession.

Yet while there are some products that benefit in terms of awareness and attention as a result of such major stories, Murray said most of the time the impact is fairly short-term.

If anything, it usually just raises the level of attention that people pay to them.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission issued an alert to the public warning them to be wary of websites and other promotions for products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the swine subtype of H1N1. http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2009/NEW02007.html.

Consumers are also being asked to report suspected fraudulent products or criminal activity relating to FDA-regulated products associated with the H1N1 strain.

Health Canada was not immediately available for comment.

Canadian and U.S. officials are also cautioning the public to beware of potential scams that could be lurking in cyberspace.

Joris Evers, a McAfee security specialist, said prior to last weekend, there was no mention of swine flu in any spam. Swine flu-related messages now account for as much as five per cent of all spam being sent out. On average, total overall spam can span between 80 and 100 billion messages daily.

Domain name registrations using the words “swine” and “flu” have also ticked up significantly, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado said scams include a website offering a “Swine Flu Survival Guide” for US$19.95 and emails with subject lines like “Madonna caught swine flu!” linking to online pharmacies.

Douglas Simpson, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus, said while they haven’t yet fielded calls or complaints about swine flu-related scams, that could change as the situation continues to unfold.

Just Posted

Walk raises awareness, money for overdose awareness in Red Deer

More than 90 people gathered in Red Deer to break the stigma… Continue reading

Ponoka RCMP looking for missing man

Ponoka RCMP is asking the public to help find a man who… Continue reading

Woman killed in collision west of Rocky Mountain House

A 42-year-old woman is dead after a two-vehicle collision in Clearwater County… Continue reading

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

Central Alberta has one less peacekeeper with death of Nobel Prize-winning vet

The late Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis helped diffuse tensions in the Middle East

WATCH: Snakes, lizards and more at the Western Canadian Reptile Expo in Red Deer

The 10th annual Western Canadian Reptile Expo is this weekend in Red… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Tuesday and Sept. 3 The Tony Connelly Singers provide an opportunity to… Continue reading

Regina police officer charged with impaired driving after hit-and-run

Regina police say a member of the force has been charged after… Continue reading

Groups ready campaign to help young voters identify ‘fake news’ in election

OTTAWA — Samantha Reusch is aiming to help young Canadians identify misinformation… Continue reading

Trade to dominate Trudeau-Trump bilateral meeting during G7 summit

BIARRITZ, France — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Friday for this weekend’s… Continue reading

Brazil military begins operations to fight Amazon fires

RIO DE JANEIRO — Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday… Continue reading

Economic storm clouds hovering over Trump and global leaders

BIARRITZ, France — Under the threatening clouds of a global economic slowdown,… Continue reading

‘Red flag laws’ offer tool for preventing some gun violence

After a white supremacist discussed plans on Facebook for a mass shooting… Continue reading

Hong Kong police and protesters clash, ending violence lull

Hong Kong protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs at police, who responded… Continue reading

Most Read