Should We Save Our Supply of Tamiflu?
Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard, argues that we should not be using up our supply of Tamiflu, the leading anti influenza-virus drug. The medication is not a vaccine – it can be given to people after they fall ill. (Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey and Kansas have apparently called out the National Guard to protect Tamiflu stocks. The CDC says we have 50 million courses Tamiflu and other drugs in hand, while the states and the Department of Defense have tens of millions of additional doses.)
Lipsitch argues that viruses learn very quickly to adapt to medications, and if the drug is used too widely too soon, we could end up losing the most potent weapon in our arsenal. Using second line treatments for patients, Lipsitch says, can conserve Tamiflu for when it might be essential. If a virus develops immunity to the drug, it could harm patients not only this time around but the next time the virus comes calling.
But what makes public health sense may not make clinical sense. Can you imagine being one of the people sick with swine flu right now and being told by your doctors that they can’t give you the best treatment available because they have to hold it in reserve for when other people get sick?
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