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Americans piled up Tamiflu on bird flu fear: report

Reuters | October 17 2006

Flashback: Bird Flu And Social Darwinism

Flashback: Killing Two Birds With One Tamiflu Stone

Fears of an outbreak of bird flu led Americans to hoard the anti-viral medicine Tamiflu in 2005, with prescriptions spiking most sharply when media coverage rose, a study released on Tuesday said.

Filled prescriptions for Tamiflu rose nearly five-fold between September and October of 2004 and the same period in 2005, according to the analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc..

Because there was little or no influenza activity reported during these periods, researchers said the data suggest patients were stockpiling the drug over fears of an epidemic.

The study adds weight to anecdotal reports of patient hoarding a year ago, when governments around the world were scrambling to build up supplies of Roche Holding AG's and Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Tamiflu, one of only two drugs that can treat avian, or bird flu.

Roche suspended Tamiflu shipments to the United States last October because of fears people were hoarding it.

The H5N1 avian influenza is still primarily a bird disease, but has infected about 252 people and killed 148 people in 9 countries. The virus has not yet been found in North or South America.

The report found that Tamiflu prescriptions filled rose to about 134 claims per 100,000 enrollees in 2005, from about 27 prescriptions per 100,000 enrollees in 2004.

Researchers also analyzed media references to Tamiflu and found it tracked neatly with the boost in prescription rates.

"The correlation between the heightened U.S. media coverage around Tamiflu and the prescription activity for the drug between September and November in 2005 is uncanny," said Robert Epstein, chief medical officer at Medco, which fills prescriptions for 55 million people in the U.S.

Last year, United States ordered 5 million treatment courses of Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc's Relenza, both antiviral drugs that can prevent and treat influenza if used very quickly.


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