Thursday, August 18, 2005

Selling Tamiflu over the counter

With the looming potential of an outbreak of influenza H5N1, it should be important for health officials to remain calm and not do anything particularly silly. Unfortunately, it looks like someone may be thinking of doing just that and may in fact end up throwing one of our main anti-viral drugs out for public sale (not by prescription)
A medical committee has delayed a decision on whether an anti-flu drug can be sold over the counter, while it investigates the safety of such a move.
While this may seem like a reasonable decision, it's overall far too dangerous if we just allow people to buy an important anti-viral drug simply willy nilly. Viruses, especially viruses like influenza are just like bacteria in terms of being able to develop new forms of resistance to the drugs we use to treat them with. For example, there are already strains of influenza resistant to the drug amantadine due to feeding it without proper regulations and restrictions to chickens in China. In the event of an outbreak, where developing a vaccine in time may not be possible we are going to be relying on drugs like amantadine and tamiflu to stem the tide and protect those most vulnerable. If we're just going to throw these into an unrestricted environment where people may irresponsibly breed resistance, just like what was experienced with the over prescription of antibiotics, we are just going to be ensuring that more coffins will be required if it does get to the point of a pandemic.