Pharmacists are gearing up for an expected rush on Tamiflu this coming Friday as prescription only restrictions on the drug are eased for the coming NZ influenza season.
Normally Tamiflu is only available on a doctor's prescription except during the flu season.
However, between the dates of 1 May and 30 September it can be obtained over the counter by a person exhibiting flu symptoms and after consultation with a pharmacist. The cost is around $65 for a 5 day course of treatment and may well be out of the reach of many low income families.
New Zealand is thought to be the only country in the world that will sell the drug to the general public without a doctor's prescription. Some pharmacists have already expressed concerns that sick people seeking out sources of the drug will ignore Ministry of Health guidance to stay at home and run the risk of spreading the disease into the community.
NZ is thought to have enough supplies to treat only 30% of the population with a single course of treatment, usually 5 days worth. Prophylactic (preventative) doses would be twice that at 10 days per course of treatment.
Pregnant Women and Babies
Pregnant women should be particularly diligent in preventing their own exposure to the virus because, according to the USA's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no clinical studies have been conducted to assess the safety of this type of medication for pregnant women.
Neither have there been any clinical trials on children under the age of 1, therefore Tamiflu is not licensed for that age group either and its supply in both cases falls to the judgement of the doctor who must be expected to weigh up the risks on a case by case basis.
Meanwhile, the WHO has issued new figures which have scaled down significantly the number of confirmed cases of Swine Flu in Mexico to 26 confirmed human cases of infection, including 7 deaths but paradoxically upgraded its threat awareness level of a pandemic from 4 to 5.
WHO figures are for reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2) and Spain (2). Since then a 2 year old child with links to Mexico has died in the USA.
For further information see WHO Swine influenza - update 4