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Bird Flu - Archives


December 1st - December 5th, 2005

Did Tamiflu Cause This Woman’s Severe Reaction?

Scary. It has just been revealed that a young Florida woman given the anti-flu drug Tamiflu last January developed - 30 minutes later - symptoms similar to those recorded by patients in Japan. Twelve of the Japanese patients later died.


The woman, Lianne Esposito (photo) of Cape Coral, was prescribed Tamiflu at an emergency medical clinic to combat flu. Within 30 minutes of taking the first pill she felt her heartbeat racing and she was gasping for breath. She spent the night in hospital. Doctors told her she’d suffered an adverse reaction to Tamiflu, which is currently being touted as the best drug against bird flu.


Tamiflu is widely prescribed as an anti-flu medication in Japan – far more than anywhere else - and the past month has seen a series of revelations there about adverse reactions from patients, including two teenage suicides. However, so far both the US Food and Drug Administration and the Japan Pediatric Society have been unable to establish any connection with Tamiflu.

Shares in Tamiflu's producer Roche Holding and in its Japanese partner Chugai Pharmaceutical fell sharply when the Japanese deaths were first reported.

December 5th, 2005


Panic Early

The Edmonton Journal in Canada is out to terrify us. Its headline is “Survival Strategies: Stock up and steel yourself for 'societal disruption',” and underneath is a photo of a woman in a face mask. A lengthy article suggests we should panic early.


It starts with a snapshot of life today for Hans Machel:


Machel is so alarmed by the swelling mountain of research warning of an influenza pandemic that the University of Alberta earth sciences professor has enough food, water and emergency supplies to hole up at home for two weeks.


That includes gasoline stored safely in his garage and a 14-day supply of Tamiflu in his fridge, medicine that can ease influenza's aches and coughs.


"I'm using common sense," Machel says. "If half or even just a third of the population is ill, so ill they can't perform their job -- take half the people out of general society, gas stations, banks, grocery stores -- society as we know it will go belly up."


Then Sherry Cooper, chief economist for BMO Nesbitt Burns, describes what might happen at the first sign of the pandemic:


Crowds of worried shoppers will empty store shelves of emergency supplies such as bottled water, canned food and generators.


People also will rush pharmacies for essential medications and medical products such as insulin, she says in an October report on pandemic influenza titled “Don't Fear Fear or Panic Panic: An Economist's View of Pandemic Flu.”


"With today's global supply chain, shortages would soon develop," Cooper writes. To preserve supplies, shoppers may face rationing.


Meanwhile, we will wait for this highly contagious disease, popping up like weeds around the world as travellers spread the virus, to make its way here.


Read it all. Then panic.

December 5th, 2005


“Tamiflu Useless”

An unsettling report from the Sunday Times in the UK:


A VIETNAMESE doctor who has treated dozens of victims of avian flu claims the drug being stockpiled around the world to combat a pandemic is “useless” against the virus.


Dr Nguyen Tuong Van runs the intensive care unit at the Centre for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and has treated 41 victims of H5N1. Van followed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and gave her patients Tamiflu, but concluded it had no effect.


“We place no importance on using this drug on our patients,” she said. “Tamiflu is really only meant for treating ordinary type A flu. It was not designed to combat H5N1 . . . (Tamiflu) is useless.”

December 5th, 2005


Ukraine and Romania

Ukraine has reported its first bird flu outbreak. It is still not known if it is the H5N1 type. Four chickens in eastern Romania have been diagnosed with the H5 strain of bird flu.

December 5th, 2005


China – "Still Not Open"

The New York Times wonders if China is concealing bird flu deaths, just as it did during the SARS outbreak in 2003.


Scientists have long been mystified by the low number of cases in humans reported in China, which has such a severe bird flu problem that it recently announced plans to vaccinate 14.2 billion chickens, geese and ducks. Far smaller countries, with less severe bird flu outbreaks, have reported many more human cases.


The newspaper quotes a WHO official as stating that the organization did not believe that China was deliberately trying to mislead, but, rather “systems to diagnose a virus-like bird ailment were often poorly developed and underfinanced in the rural areas with the most cases.”


Nevertheless, the article goes on to state:


In a recent editorial, Hu Shuli, the outspoken editor of “Caijing,” China's most prestigious investigative magazine, complained that local officials had stymied her journalists' attempts to investigate the death, possibly from bird flu, of a 12-year-old girl in Hunan.


"The situation has improved immensely over what we witnessed in the early days of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when the question of the virus's very existence was deemed a state secret," she said. "But if we want to further improve the situation, we must also acknowledge that officials still are not open and efficient enough in disclosing virus information to the public."


Scientists studying the international spread of bird flu have complained that China has not shared information about its experiences with the disease, although they say the situation has improved lately.


Still, while Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand have provided international specialists with samples of viruses from each bird flu outbreak, China has not shared such material.

December 3rd, 2005


How Much Should I Worry?

The Times columnist Camilla Cavendish wonders if she is over-reacting to the bird flu scare.


I started to wonder whether I was getting a bit bird-brained about all this when I found myself surfing the web to buy Tamiflu…Humans are not rational beings, of course. And what, in any case, is a rational response to a small but real probability of something truly awful happening? Should we now lay siege to spice shops and Indian restaurants, since the main ingredient in Tamiflu is star anise? The medics are no help; they seem entranced by visions of apocalypse.


….It is deeply irritating to be panicked by institutions that could do very little if bird flu struck, but that are simultaneously talking up the risk and failing to do what they should. In the US, an H5N1 vaccine is being tested that might help if the virus mutates — but here our ministers still cannot get their heads round how our factories could ever make enough. Only a few years ago, another devastating virus was predicted. It was called the Millennium Bug. Everyone had a contingency plan, but none was needed. It may be our duty as mothers to worry — but not quite so much.

December 2nd, 2005


Tamiflu “Didn’t Cause Japanese Deaths”

The Japan Pediatric Society has issued a statement declaring that it can find no link between Tamiflu and the deaths of 12 Japanese children who took the drug. According to the Society:


The symptoms observed in the 12 cases could also be seen in other patients who were not given the drug….The group also said that it was possible that the children's influenza had worsened a separate underlying medical condition, leading to the deaths.


The society's findings come weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also concluded that Tamiflu was not connected to the deaths.


Japan's Health Ministry issued a warning in mid-November that Tamiflu may induce "strange behavior" after reporting that two teenage boys died shortly after taking the medicine.


The society said it saw no need to issue any fresh warnings regarding the drug. However, it recommended that doctors continue to take precautions when administering Tamiflu to patients and monitor them for side effects.

December 2nd, 2005


Making Your Blood Go Cold

The global investment firm Citigroup has issued a bird flu report for Australian investors, recommending that in the event of a pandemic they sell shares in companies that depend on people gathering in public places - such as shopping centre operator Westfield, casino owner PBL and betting shop operator Tabcorp – and in airlines and tourism companies. These should be replaced by the shares of companies that will benefit if people are forced to stay at home, such as phone companies, media companies and transportation companies.


The report allows The Australian newspaper to indulge in some business bashing. Under the headline “Outcry Over Bird Flu Hit List” it publishes the comments of a “business ethicist,” John Sweeney:


"This makes your blood go cold," said Mr Sweeney, leader of the Edmund Rice Business Ethics Initiative. Mr Sweeney also said that market behaviour may need to be regulated in the event of a bird flu pandemic.


The newspaper also quotes a fund manager:


James Thier, who oversees a $380 million portfolio at Australian Ethical Investment, said Citigroup should have kept its advice to "positive stocks" like vaccine makers and pathology. "These people are looking at avian flu and saying that these are potential winners for us. They are looking at the negative side," Mr Thier said. "But this needs to be approached from a positive perspective rather than saying, 'How can we profit from millions of deaths?'."

December 1st, 2005


Another Indonesian Death

The Indonesian Health Ministry has announced another death – the country’s eighth – from bird flu.

December 1st, 2005