Tamiflu to cost patients $60 to $80

By Isaac Davison

Tamiflu is available without prescription from today until September, but it will cost flu sufferers at least $60.

A full course of the unsubsidised drug, which is available over the counter for people showing flu symptoms, is priced at between $60 and $80.

The Government said yesterday it would provide for people who presented flu symptoms but could not pay that price.

Pharmacy Guild spokeswoman Annabel Young said the price of Tamiflu was a reasonable retail mark-up which covered the costs of running a pharmacy.

The ministry faced criticism from pharmacists who said over-the-counter sales would bring people with flu symptoms out of isolation, but said it would not relax its rules on the distribution of the drug.

The World Health Organisation announced yesterday that a swine flu pandemic was imminent, but New Zealand health authorities remained in a "contain and mitigate" phase.

A ministry report showed last night that 16 people were being treated as having swine flu, three who were confirmed by WHO tests as carrying the bug and 13 probable cases.

The number of suspected cases crept up to 111 from 104, and more than 121 were in isolation.

Auckland had the most people isolated with 72 and the only probable cases of influenza A.

Waikato District Health Board was investigating three further possible cases of swine flu yesterday, meaning it is now awaiting test results on four cases. Clearances for the region's first two possible cases came yesterday.

Deputy Director of Public Health Fran McGrath said the continuing increase in suspected cases was "absolutely what you would expect with influenza". Most new cases were relatives of people who had returned from the United States in the past week.

Director-General of Health Stephen McKernan announced that a specialist centre was being planned in Auckland to assess suspected cases.

The community-based assessment centre is likely to be at Middlemore Hospital, which is closest to Auckland Airport where incoming passengers are being screened.

"A community-based centre was provided for in the [pandemic] plan. Middlemore is much closer to the airport and has available clinical space," said Mr McKernan.

District health boards in other parts of the country are being told to prepare to set up their own centres.

New Zealand's health alert status remained in code yellow, despite the WHO moving its pandemic alert level from phase four to phase five.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said officials were still focusing on containing and mitigating the effects of the virus.

Phase five - the second highest alert level - indicated that the virus moved easily between humans, and was present in more than one country in a WHO region.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said influenza pandemics must be taken seriously "precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world".

The WHO's announcement followed the death of a 23-month-old Mexican child in Texas, the first to die of swine flu outside Mexico.

In Spain, health officials confirmed the first swine flu case of a person who had not travelled to Mexico.

Dr Chan said all countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans.

"It really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

NEW ZEALAND CASES

Confirmed/probable: 16, all in Auckland, one is a child.

Suspected cases: 104, waiting test results for influenza A.

Isolations: 111 people, plus their family members.

DEFINITIONS

Isolation includes all cases and contacts in isolation or quarantine (but not people in hospital isolation). It refers to the number of cases, the actual number of people in isolation may be higher as it includes the people in the suspected category, plus their close family members.

Suspected is all people who display flu symptoms AND have travelled through areas of concern, or are contacts of cases.

Probable are all suspected cases that test positive for Influenza A all these cases are being treated as confirmed for the purposes of treatment.

Tamiflu

Tamiflu, which health authorities have been giving to people in isolation, can be purchased from pharmacies from today until September 30 but pharmacists will only sell the pills under certain conditions. Patients with early-stage flu symptoms must present themselves face-to-face to their pharmacist.

SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of influenza may include: a sore throat, coughing, fever, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue, and diarrhoea and vomiting in some cases. The pharmacist will assess the patient's condition according to these symptoms and determine whether Tamiflu is appropriate.

The drug is not a vaccine, and will therefore not be sold to people who are simply concerned that they may develop swine flu.

Pharmacists must abide by these conditions for the safety of the patient, and also to minimise resistance to Tamiflu.

Check with your local Pharmacy - it would be helpful to phone first to find out how individual pharmacies are dealing with this situation.

- NZ Herald

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