UK Government stockpiles anti-viral medicine Tamiflu from Roche

In an attempt to prevent the spread of the influenza pandemic birdflu the U.K. government will buy 200 million pounds ($384 million) worth of the anti-viral medicine Tamiflu from Roche, one of Switzerland's largest drug companies. The influenza pandemic could kill more than 50,000 people in the country.

This will treat 14.6 million people, or a quarter of the U.K. population. It will not prevent the disease, but should slow its progress, U.K. Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson told journalists in London.

The next influenza pandemic will come in one or more waves lasting about three months and will kill between 2 million and 50 million people worldwide, according to U.K. Health Department documents published today. Up 28.1 million people could need hospital treatment.

The U.K. action is a result of the World Health Organization’s request for governments to prepare for an influenza pandemic; pandemics killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide in 1918-1919, about 1 million in 1957-1958 and between 1 million and 4 million in 1968-1969.

A vaccine will ultimately be needed to stop the pandemic, but first the strain will need to be identified. Up to six weeks is needed to develop the vaccine. Hopefully it will be in time for the second wave of the pandemic

The Tamiflu treatments will be ready by the end of the 2005-2006 financial year with the remainder coming in the following year, the Department of Health said.

Bird Flu, an H5N1 avian influenza virus in Southeast Asia could mutate into a strain that is easily transmitted between humans. It has already killed at least 42 people in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, but there is no concrete evidence of person-to-person transmission. The possibility exists for a human flu virus to mix with the avian flu virus in a human, or in a pig, and create a new strain more transmissible with more severe effects against which the population has no natural immunity.

Most deaths will be in more vulnerable, poor countries, often because health services are- under developed. A quarter, or 14.5 million of the U.K. population (59 million) will become ill, and at least 80,000 will need hospitalization. Deaths are expected to be more than 50,000.

U.S. deaths are estimated to reach 207,000, and hospitalizations between up to 734,000.

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