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January 03, 2006

Tamiflu Is Not a Bird-Flu Panacea

NPR reports:
In testimony before the House Commitee on International Relations, [Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] said, "I want to caution the committee that we cannot equate stockpiling and availability of Tamiflu with preparedness. We have no hard scientific data of how well this antiviral will perform under the conditions of a pandemic."

Fauci told the committee that Tamiflu doesn't cure even everyday flu.

"What this antiviral does is diminish the duration of symptoms by approximately a day and a half," he said.

That's because Tamiflu doesn't kill the flu virus. It just slows it down so the body's immune system can catch up.
Hayden says another limitation of Tamiflu is that ordinary flu viruses have shown they can develop resistance to it.

"We've known for some years that Tamiflu-treated patients can shed resistant virus," he says. "It's been seen in about one in five children, for example, treated for conventional influenza.

More recently, scientists have found signs that bird flu virus also can develop resistance to Tamiflu. A recent study said described two patients in Vietnam who died after the virus became resistant.

[Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia School of Medicine] says that in spite of Tamiflu's limitations, it makes sense for governments to purchase large quantities of the drug. One reason is that even a small decrease in the severity of a flu pandemic would be worth the billions of dollars countries are spending on Tamiflu.


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