Civil complaint filed over nasal spray falsely advertised as COVID-19 treatment, DOJ says

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a civil enforcement action against Utah company Xclear Inc. and its founder Nathan Jones for allegedly touting their saline nasal spray product could prevent or treat COVID-19. 

The defendants advertised their nasal spray product as a viable treatment "without competent or reliable scientific evidence to support those claims," the DOJ wrote in an Oct. 29 news release. 

According to the DOJ and the FTC, Xclear Inc. and Jones violated the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act which was passed in December 2020. 

The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act "prohibits deceptive acts or practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation or diagnosis of COVID-19," the news release stated. 

Nasal spray

FILE - A bottle containing nasal spray sitting atop a mirror. (Wolfram Kastl/picture alliance via Getty Images)

RELATED: Nasal spray could potentially treat COVID-19, NIH says 

The defendants also allegedly violated the FTC Act which prohibits unfair and deceptive conduct, as well as false advertising, according to the DOJ. 

"The complaint seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief to stop the defendants from continuing to make deceptive advertising claims," the news release continued. 

"The Department of Justice will not tolerate individuals or companies attempting to profit from the current public health emergency by unlawfully and deceptively advertising unproven products," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. "The department is committed to working with the FTC to enforce the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act against those who unlawfully market unproven COVID-19 treatments." 

"Companies can’t make unsupported health claims, no matter what form a product takes or what it supposedly prevents or treats," said Director Samuel Levine of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "That’s the lesson of this case and many others like it, and it’s why people should continue to rely on medical professionals over ads." 

RELATED: Nasal spray being tested to prevent and treat COVID-19 

While Xclear Inc. allegedly touted an illegitimate nasal spray product as a preventative COVID-19 treatment, the Cleveland Clinic announced on Sept. 26 results of their study that found regular use of steroid nasal sprays afforded COVID-19 patients protection against virus-related hospitalizations. 

The study, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, also said regular use of a steroid nasal spray prevented ICU admission and death related to COVID-19. 

The Cleveland Clinic gathered data from over 70,000 COVID-19 patients ages 18 and older at the Cleveland Clinic health system from April 2020 to March 2021. Of the group, 17.5% were hospitalized, 4.1% were admitted to the ICU and 2.6% died at the hospital. Just over 14% of patients were taking a steroid nasal spray, also known as intranasal corticosteroids (INCS), before infection. 

Dr. Ronald Strauss, allergist-immunologist and director of the Cleveland Allergy and Asthma Center, added: "Our findings are particularly significant, as decreased COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mortality could alleviate the strain on health care systems with limited resources across the globe, especially in developing countries where there is limited access to vaccines and where mutations in SARS-CoV-2 have emerged." 

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5-11 to be ‘fully up and running’ next week, White House says 

Meanwhile, Merck’s new COVID-19 pill, known as molnupiravir, is headed for FDA review for emergency authorization and could potentially carry serious safety issues stemming from the method used to kill the virus, scientists warned, according to a report. 

The oral antiviral medication integrates into the genetic makeup of the virus, causing a large number of mutations to destroy it. 

Like Tamiflu can prevent complications for patients diagnosed with influenza, Merck's medication has a similar potential to prevent hospitalization and death after being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

If cleared by the FDA, it would be the first pill shown to treat the illness. All other FDA-backed treatments against COVID-19 require an IV or injection. 

An antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing caseload on U.S. hospitals and helping to curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health care systems. It would also bolster the two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment, by way of medication, and prevention, primarily through vaccinations. 

The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report.