October 11, 2005

Stockpiling drugs can't replace planning for a flu pandemic.

That's the message of epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who warns that current attempts to stockpile antiviral drugs and increase vaccine production are creating a false sense of security. Once the H5N1 flu virus can be transmitted easily from person to person, Osterholm says, it will move too fast for drugs and vaccines to be much help. Instead of hoping that prevention will do the job, governments should be planning for how a pandemic will be handled once it gets going.

"We have had a pandemic flu plan as a planning process since 1976," said Osterholm. "Nobody has completed it. It been one of the most long-standing incompleted processes in Washington. Nobody wants to believe that modern medical science can't handle something."

But it cannot, said Osterholm, who has seen the current U.S. flu plan. The plan has not been published yet but leaked versions suggest the country has done little to prepare for an H5N1 pandemic.

Osterholm and other experts have long been complaining that there are not sufficient hospital beds, equipment or trained workers to cope with a major epidemic.

"The one thing I worry desperately about it is the impact of overreliance on neuraminidase inhibitors [Tamiflu and Relenza]," he said....

They work to reduce the severity of annual influenza and may prevent infection if used at the right time. Tests suggest they also work against H5N1, but no one knows how well....

"Now people are saying whoever has the most Tamiflu wins," Osterholm said. "I worry so much that Tamiflu is a surrogate for protection."

Even after current orders are filled, the US will have treatment courses of Tamiflu for only 4.3 million people. Experts, however, say that as many as 90 million people would need Tamiflu if an avian flu epidemic occurred.

Via Reuters.

Posted by Magpie at October 11, 2005 11:30 AM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |