Panic buying of flu drug results in rationing

Even though Australia is yet to have had any confirmed cases of influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) there has been such a demand for the anti-viral drug Tamiflu that the drug must now be rationed - it is reported that in the last week 120,000 courses of Tamiflu were sold, compared with about 10,000 courses in a normal flu season and many chemists have run out.

It appears that despite no confirmed existence of the presence of the new virus on Australian shores, doctors have continued to prescribe the drug in huge volumes - even though the swine flu threat elsewhere appears to be decreasing.

To date in Australia 402 people have been tested and have been cleared of the disease.

There is concern on the part of Federal Health officials that some doctors are mis-prescribing the drug and some people may be hoarding the drug in response to warnings that the new strain will inevitably hit Australia.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the current situation now means that doctors and hospitals will have to approach the drug's manufacturer Roche to treat a patient they have diagnosed with influenza - Ms Roxon says this will help tackle the issue of people individually stockpiling the anti-virals when they have no symptoms.

Ms Roxon says demands for drugs which are not needed puts in jeopardy treatments for people that do need them - in future Roche will continue to supply Tamiflu for hospitals and GPs to treat confirmed cases of influenza and these supplies will be allocated through hospitals.

More supplies for wholesalers and community pharmacies are expected to become available in the near future and Ms Roxon has urged people not to panic by stockpiling food or asking doctors for unnecessary prescriptions of anti-viral drugs to ward off swine flu.

The run on the flu drug has forced the Government to agree to extend the product's shelf life of existing Tamiflu capsules from five to seven years - Roche had already secured approval for new stock to be given a shelf life of seven years and applied for the extension for existing stock last week as the swine flu outbreak took hold.

Dr Ruth Lopert, the principal medical advisor to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, says the extension of shelf life is subject to the product being stored under appropriate conditions for the seven-year period and which is at less than 25 degrees.

The Health Minister says the Government's stockpile of 8.7 million courses of Tamiflu and Relenza is not under threat and should Australia move into a pandemic situation, the stockpile that the Government holds, would be immediately mobilised and there would be no risk of being short of supplies in those circumstances.

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