Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Too much Tamiflu on the shelf?

We have Tamiflu coming out of our ears. In January health minister Dawn Primarolo told the House of Commons that the nation had 11,000,000,000 milligrams of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). The adult dose is 750mg per treatment course. She also said that 'the bulk of the current stockpile of Tamiflu is due to reach the end of its shelf life in financial year 2010-11, the remainder is due to expire in financial years 2011-12 and 2012-13'.

Stockpiled for the bird flu epidemic that never really was, this mountain of medication has led conspiracy theorists to suggest that the whole swine flu business is just about getting the stuff down our throats before the use-by date. I don't know about that but I am concerned that by trying to use it all up in time we may not be doing ourselves any favours further down the line.

While welcoming the telephone diagnosis of swine flu, Dr Holden, the British Medical Association's lead GP on pandemic flu, has said in Pulse magazine that he is worried that the threshold for issuing Tamiflu has been set too low, a policy that could come back to haunt the Department of Health if the virus becomes resistant to Tamiflu.

All Tamiflu does is limit by an extra day or two, symptoms that will, anyway, be self-limiting in most of us. That being so, how many of us really need it? Surely it's best to keep it for those whose age or circumstances mean their lives are at risk from the virus while sparing the rest of us both the side-effects of Tamiflu today (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and headache) and the possible danger of having nothing to take tomorrow.

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