Women's Health Base

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Flu epidemic may be hit by recession

Posted by hannahflynn on April 27, 2009

Tamiflu during 2005 bird flu outbreak

Tamiflu during 2005 bird flu outbreak

 

The recent emergence of ‘swine flu’ in Mexico should come as no shock, the WHO has been considering a global flu pandemic a matter of when not if, since the emergence of bird-flu in 1997, but we should start to question how prepared we are for the potential consequences of this.

 As influenza pandemics are hard to predict, governments can only prepare for them through the stockpiling of flu drugs (like Tamiflu) and vaccines. This is expensive business.

Dr Merion Evans, an epidemiologist from Cardiff University, is concerned preparation may take a back seat during the recession.

“The government might be less ready to put a lot of money into stockpiling medicines when it’s unclear how beneficial they are.”

 A vaccine cannot be produced until it’s known what strain is causing a flu pandemic. We currently know that H1N1 is responsible for the epidemic in Mexico, but until a few days ago we did not know if it would be H5N1, the strain currently known as ‘bird-flu’. Therefore pharmaceutical plants must always be ready to go at any time.

“That’s a lot of investment into faculties for producing large amounts of vaccine in a short period of time. That may be a victim of the credit crunch,” Evans warns.

We are overdue for a flu pandemic and increased globalisation could have a disastrous effect, as the virus is able to spread faster.

 Flu pandemics can also surprise us as it’s not always older people who are the most susceptible. “The 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic was more serious in young people, this is as older people have been exposed to more strains of flu and are resistant to them, but younger generations do not have this advantage.”

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4 Responses to “Flu epidemic may be hit by recession”

  1. ahrcanum said

    It would appear that part of the reason that Tamaflu is not readily available at the pharmacy is that the government continues to stockpile it, reducing access for the general population.

    • hannahflynn said

      I think you are confused on a number of points:
      1) Tamiflu is an antiviral which is a prescription only medication in the UK and most of the rest of the world inlcuding most European countries, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Few countries would allow you to buy this drug over the counter in a pharmacy as for even just one individual to take it would require medical supervision.
      2) Government stockpiling does not refer to the government hoarding the drug in order to prevent the public buying it (even when they don’t need it), but rather ensuring pharmacutical companies are creating enough and keeping unused supplys on hand. This is so that when an epidemic does hit there is enough of the drug to be distributed through the primary care sector in the country (and to a degree secondary care).
      3) This would in no way reduce access for the general population, rather it would increase it. Government stockpiling in Europe has at no point I am aware of, resulted in demand outstripping supply in an endemic situation.
      If you need any clarification on any of those points please do get back to me!

  2. Excellent entry. Thanks!

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