Tamiflu Increasingly Under Fire

The swine flu’s a-coming, it’s a coming! There’s no ignoring it now, not after today’s front-page story, top-of-the-fold and complete with color-coded maps, in the Washington Post. “‘The virus is still around and ready to explode,’ said William Schaffner, an influenza expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who advises federal health officials. ‘We’re potentially looking at a very big mess.'”

Wow. You may wonder, as I did: “OK, we had swine flu in the spring, and now they say it’s going to come back soon. Where has it been off to in the meantime?” The answer: in the Southern Hemisphere! It’s winter there now, so I guess it has something to do with cold weather – although it has stuck around to an alarming degree nonetheless in the UK. That could be a function of the rather “un-summery” (i.e. cool, cloudy, rainy) summer we’ve mostly had here so far in Northern Europe.

Turning back to the Northern European press – i.e. to something you may not be able to just read yourself – the French-language Belgian paper Le Soir has picked up on those reports that we discussed here earlier about swine-flu cases being discovered that are resistant to Tamiflu. Once again with Le Soir, the article includes a brief mention of how “The Roche laboratory [maker of Tamiflu] had indicated that it expected a 0.5% rate of resistance to its antiviral [drug] according to results from clinical tests,” and that makes me see red. That’s just marketing propaganda; how can they truly know how widespread the resistance to their drug will be through “clinical tests”?

Here’s what Le Soir has that’s new about the swine flu, however (although they tend to call it the “Flu A/H1N1,” which seems standard for French media): the Tamiflu used to combat it also induces undesirable side-effects in children – “important” effects, according to the article, effects “quite a bit more than the preliminary studies done to get the medicine approved allowed us to guess.” This is evident from the unpleasant experiences of pupils at one particular elementary school in England where they all were given Tamiflu after it was found that one of them had returned from a vacation to Mexico with the swine flu virus, and it obviously argues against that kind of preventive prescription of the drug.

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