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Symmetrel

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Drug companies have been doing a roaring trade in selling drugs that are useless against the supposed threat of avian flu

Drug companies have been doing a roaring trade in selling drugs that are useless against the supposed threat of avian flu. Up to now, Tamiflu (oseltam-ivir) has been a chief weapon, but it isn't ideal. As well as making the patient suicidal, it doesn't work.

So, the ever-flexible drug industry is instead suggesting another antiviral, Symmetrel (amantadine). Approved back in 1976 as an antiparkinson's therapy, it's made a few people wonder why it's now being promoted as the world's saviour against bird flu and the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus.

It's certainly nothing to do with effectiveness. At best, it can relieve symptoms if taken within 48 hours of their appearance, but it doesn't stop infection or nasal excretions. So, like Tamiflu, it also doesn't work.

It's also likely to cause nausea, insomnia and hallucinations, so it may not be the ideal drug to give to ambu-lance drivers, helicopter pilots and the like.

The real reason Symmetrel is being pushed is one of cost. It's cheap. No, it doesn't work; yes, it causes key workers to hallucinate-but at least it won't break the piggy bank (BMJ, 2007; 334: 439).


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