Health

swine flu, tamiflu, h1n1, relenza
Amel Emric/AP
The antiflu drug Tamiflu.

Health Experts to UK: You Can’t Stop Swine Flu Spread with Tamiflu

May 22, 2009 06:30 PM
by Rachel Balik
Health authorities are criticizing the U.K. for trying to contain the H1N1 virus with the drug Tamiflu, saying it won’t work and wastes resources.

Too Late to Prevent H1N1 Spread with Tamiflu?

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Many countries began the fight against swine flu by employing preventative measures, but the U.S., Canada and Japan quickly decided that the H1N1 virus was spreading too quickly to be contained effectively using anti-viral drugs. However, against the advice of many experts, Britain is still administering the anti-viral medication Tamiflu to anyone in contact with a suspected swine flu patient.

The Associated Press reports that Britain has fallen under heavy scrutiny because it has the highest number of cases reported in Europe. However, given how quickly the disease spreads, the number of reported cases (112 as of early Friday) seems suspiciously low to some, leading to speculation that U.K. authorities were either withholding information or were not putting enough effort into diagnosis.

Michael Osterholm, a flu researcher at the University of Minnesota, explained that the U.K.’s attempt to limit infection with Tamiflu was an impractical use of financial resources and medication, given the rapidity of the disease’s spread. He told the AP, “It's like trying to maintain the integrity of your submarine with screen doors.”

That’s not to say that Tamiflu doesn’t help at all, at least on an individual basis. The Times of London explains that it if a person who is infected takes the drug within 48 hours of showing symptoms, symptoms are reduced and the chances of spreading it to someone else via coughing or sneezing are decreased. If a person who is not yet infected takes the drug, the drug may actually prevent the virus’s ability to spread throughout the body.

Background: Experts say to use Relenza instead

As with all drugs, there is the danger of the virus becoming immune to treatment by Tamiflu. Bloomberg reported at the end of April that researchers warned against using Tamiflu at the very beginning of the outbreak, saying there was a risk that the drug would be rendered ineffective by the time situation became severe. They recommended treating a small number of people with a drug that is in shorter supply, Relenza. They said that the effectiveness of the more readily available Tamiflu could be thus be preserved.

Related Topic: Developing the H1N1 Vaccine

There is currently no vaccine against swine flu, but WHO has been considering how much to invest in developing one. Developing a vaccine would be quite costly and time-consuming. WHO must first decide how severe the epidemic is.

Reference: Tamiflu and Relenza

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