Re your article on colds & flu (WDDTY vol 12 no 8), I would like to know why you did not mention the two very effective flu drugs now available: the neuraminidase inhibitors, Relenza and Tamiflu.
If a new influenza virus appeared, no one, including those people who had received the current flu vaccine, would have any protection.
Is there a perception that Relenza and Tamiflu don't work? If given early enough after the first flu symptoms appear, and if the infection is influenza and not some other upper respiratory tract infection, these drugs will reduce the duration and severity of the disease. They are effective against all influenza virus strains.
If a new virus appeared - whether by natural means or as the result of some bioterrorist activity - Relenza and Tamiflu would be the only defense against this new virus, at least in the early stages of the epidemic. They could save much misery and might save many lives.
Does the government have any plans to use these drugs? They should be stockpiled now, in huge quantities, and strategic plans developed for their rapid distribution if any flu emergency arose.
I would be interested to hear your comments.- Graeme Laver, Australian National University, via e-mail
WDDTY replies: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a magic bullet. All drugs have side-effects. There have been reports linking Relenza to cases of bronchospasm and serious decline in respiratory function. These might be worth the risk in the midst of a biological terrorist attack but, for normal cold and flus, our view is that there are safer options besides drugs.