The international police organisation Interpol has issued a warning about the potential for criminals to exploit the swine flu outbreak through spam emails and websites selling illegal, unlicensed or fake medicines.

The organisation based in Lyon, France, which has 187 member countries over five continents, said internet security firms were reporting that 3-4% of spam emails were related to swine flu last week, and that this number was expected to increase.

It said hundreds of new web pages related to swine flu had also been created in the past week.

Jen-Michel Louboutin, Interpol’s executive director of police services, said the public risked their wellbeing and their money if they responded to spam swine flu emails or attempted to order medication online through illegal websites.

He added: “It has been seen time and time again that following a global threat or natural disaster, criminals exploit the situation for their own financial gain. In this situation, they are searching to take advantage or people’s fears about their health.”

Louboutin said any unsolicited emails containing deals or links to websites offering swine flu-related information packs or medicines should be treated with extreme caution.

Interpol also warned that criminals involved in the production of counterfeit medicines might also begin to manufacture fake antiviral drugs.

Louboutin added: “Any product which can be manufactured can be counterfeited, and while there is so far no evidence to suggest that fake antivirals are being manufactured in response to the swine flu outbreak, this is an area which we will continue to monitor in order to identify any cases if or when they emerge.”

Interpol said anyone seeking official updates and information about swine flu should consult the World Health Organisation’s website and for individual countries’ guidelines the public should consult their national health authority’s website.