Government warns Web sites that sell unproven treatments for bioterrorism

Monday, November 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government is warning dozens of Web site operators to stop touting unproven treatments for anthrax, smallpox and other infectious agents that could be used for bioterrorism.

The treatments offered included dietary supplements such as oregano oil and zinc mineral water, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday. The agency said there is no scientific evidence for any of these alternative treatments.

The agency has sent about 40 e-mail warnings to site operators, giving them a week to reply.

``These operators need to shut down these areas of their sites or face prosecution,'' said Howard Beales, the FTC's director of consumer protection. ``This should help put an early end to misleading marketing that attempts to prey on people's fears of anthrax, smallpox or any other biological or chemical threats.''

Beales said consumers who think they may have been exposed to some kind of biological or chemical agent should consult a doctor immediately.

The FTC didn't name the Web sites being warned, but said operators who don't comply could be fined, banned from operating or required to repay consumers.

The FTC has been working with the Food and Drug Administration and law enforcement officials in 30 states to scour the Internet for products that falsely claim to protect against, detect, prevent or treat biological and chemical agents.

The products reviewed included gas masks and protective suits; mail sterilizers; biohazard test kits; homeopathic remedies; and dietary supplements such as colloidal silver, zinc mineral water, thyme and oregano oil.

The agencies found more than 200 Web sites marketing such products and many of them may also receive warning letters, the FTC said.

The government has approved certain prescription antibiotics _ not dietary supplements _ as ways to prevent or treat anthrax, said John Taylor, director of the FDA's enforcement office.

There is no proven treatment for smallpox, nor any FDA-approved home anthrax test.

The FDA has already shut down several foreign pharmacies illegally selling Cipro on the Internet. The agency said it had no way to tell if the alleged Cipro sold on those Web sites was real or had been manufactured safely. It is illegal to sell antibiotics over the Internet without a proper doctor's prescription.

Consumers should be particularly wary of e-mail advertisements promoting products for dealing with bioterrorism, the FTC said. Consumers should also know that some Web sites may sell ineffective drugs.