Washington, Oct. 22: What fallout shelters were to worries about the bomb, and duct tape and plastic sheeting were to fears of terrorism after September 11, Tamiflu is starting to be for the spectre of pandemic influenza.
Across the US, people appear to be building home stockpiles of the prescription antiviral medicine, according to reports by drugstores and physicians.
The run on Tamiflu was apparently spurred by government warnings, in America and elsewhere in the world, that chances for a worldwide flu epidemic are rising, and by news that southeast Asia’s H5N1 bird flu ' the leading candidate for a pandemic ' is moving westward.
For more than a year, demand for the drug, known generically as oseltamivir, has been rising as more than three dozen countries began to lay in millions of doses for national stockpiles. Retail demand, however, took a sharp upturn last month. A five-day course of two pills a day costs $80 to $90.
The trend worries many physicians because widespread home stockpiling could undermine international efforts to fight a flu pandemic. Some doctors are refusing their patients’ requests except in special circumstances.
“I do know that I personally can’t give everybody who wants Tamiflu a prescription for it. It just doesn’t seem right to me,” said Harry Oken, 51, an internist in Columbia. “If there really was an avian flu epidemic, people who don’t need it have it, and people who really need it can’t get it.”
Oken said he and his four partners at Charter Internal Medicine are each getting one or two calls a week from patients seeking the medicine.
“Last week a patient of mine called about having Tamiflu on hand, and I must have been on the phone with him for 20 minutes. He wanted four prescriptions. We went back and forth on all the issues, and he finally asked: ‘Well, what would you do'’”
“I told him: ‘Well, I’m not writing it for my family,’” Oken said. He knows that some doctors are keeping a supply for their own use but believes “that’s not right, either”.