Clearing Up Confusion Over Anti-Viral Drugs

By: Jodi Baker Email
By: Jodi Baker Email

There’s some confusion over the anti-viral drugs being used to treat the H1N1 influenza virus. Health officials warn against misuse of the medications Tamiflu and Relenza.

Dr. Adi Pour, Douglas County Health Department Director says, "The state Health and Human Services Department has started a survey of all pharmacies in the state of Nebraska to try to determine how much anti-viral medication which is Tamiflu and Relenza is in the state of Nebraska. There is quite a bit."

She adds, "There is plenty of Tamiflu and Relenza available nationwide. At the same time, the federal government is releasing 25 percent of the strategic national stockpile to every community.”

Dr. Pour says Nebraska will be getting its shipment in the coming days. “That strategic stockpile is going to have extra Tamiflu and Relenza in it. So, I don't think we are on a shortage of it. We want however, to make sure that those anti-virals are being used as prescribed and not overused."

The recommendation is that those medications only be taken by individuals who are already sick, ideally within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

"Right now, just people who are ill or people who might become ill because of close contact with a case for H1N1are candidates for treatment," says Dr. Gary Gorby, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Creighton University Medical Center.

"Health care workers who had provided direct care to somebody who is a confirmed, probable or suspected case of the new H1N1 strain should also receive prophylaxis if they were not using the appropriate personal protective equipment that's recommended by the CDC."

Dr. Gorby says the general public is not advised to take the anti-viral medications for preventative reasons. For one, he says, the drugs have side-effects.

But more importantly, "if you have a lot of people taking a drug that they don't need, it increases the chance for the virus to develop resistance to the drug."

Dr. Gorby says it’s hard to say at this point just how effective Tamiflu and Relenza are at combating H1N1. "It's all so new that a lot of data is being collected. We do know that the H1N1 virus is sensitive to Tamiflu and Relenza. It's resistant to older anti-viral drugs Rimantadine and Amantadine.”

He adds, the newer class of anti-virals, which have shown effectiveness against Influenza A are not an overnight fix. "But if you're sick with Influenza A, they will generally shorten the course of the illness and the severity of it."

Dr. Gorby says, the earlier we take it, the greater benefit. Ideally, patients would begin a course of treatment within the first 48 hours of symptoms.

Those who are sick would take the medication twice a day for five days. Close contacts of patients would be on a dose of once a day for ten days.

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