Antivirals not to be given for seasonal flu, doctors told - 1/2/2006

From The Times

Antivirals not to be given for seasonal flu, doctors told
Cynthia Busuttil

Maltese doctors have been advised not to prescribe antivirals to patients suffering from seasonal influenza unless the flu could lead to "serious illness or hospitalisation and possibly death".

The chairman of the National Influenza Pandemic Standing Committee, Tanya Melillo, said the reason for the national committee's recommendation was the risk of influenza viruses becoming resistant to antivirals, which would be on the front line in the fight against a flu pandemic.

"We do not advise that any type of antiviral be used for seasonal influenza. We only advise that those who buy them keep them to be used in case of a pandemic," she said. This includes Tamiflu, of which the Maltese government has ordered enough doses to treat 25 per cent of the local population.

Earlier this month the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) advised against the use of two antivirals - amantadine and rimantadine - for the treatment or prevention of influenza in the US during this flu season.

The CDC warned that a resistance had developed to the medicines in much of the influenza viruses. In fact, 91 per cent of the 120 influenza A viruses taken from patients from 23 states had shown resistance to the two antivirals, the centre said.

Contacted by The Times, Dr Melillo said the same influenza viruses circulating in the US would also be found in Europe.

However, she pointed out that in the US antivirals had been used for the treatment of influenza for a number of years. On the other hand, antivirals have never been available on the local market before and in Europe they have not been available for as long as in the US.

Dr Melillo said the CDC recommendations have been given to American doctors but the same studies have not yet been carried out in Europe.

The antiviral rimantadine is not available in Malta, while amantadine is, Dr Melillo said.

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