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Avian Flu: Cost is the key as yet another ineffectual drug is pushed
About the author: 
WDDTY Team

Medical researchers are a little like politicians in one major regard: they both like to keep us in a state of terror

Medical researchers are a little like politicians in one major regard: they both like to keep us in a state of terror. For the politician, it's a useful device in order to remove civil liberties 'for our own good'; for the medical researcher, it's a great way to sell product.

The latest health scare is, of course, Avian flu, which is apparently about to decimate the world's population. It was expected to do so the winter before last, then it was going to be last winter - but still we wait to be decimated. In the meantime, the drug companies have been busy selling antivirals, and especially Tamiflu, to governments and key personnel around the world to ensure they're not among the one in 10.

Tamiflu isn't ideal. As well as making the patient suicidal, it also doesn't work. So the ever-flexible drug industry is instead suggesting another antiviral, Symmetrel (amantadine). Symmetrel has an interesting history. It was approved back in 1976 as an antiparkinson's therapy, which has made a few people wonder why it's now being promoted as the world's saviour against Avian flu. It's certainly nothing to do with effectiveness. At best, it can relieve symptoms if it's taken within 48 hours, but it doesn't stop infection or nasal excretions. So, like Tamiflu, it doesn't work.

It's also very likely to cause nausea, insomnia and hallucinations, so perhaps it's not the ideal drug to give to ambulance 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 it doesn't cost much. On that basis, water costs nothing at all, and it doesn't cause hallucinations.

(Source: British Medical Journal, 2007; 334: 439).

E-news broadcast 12 April 2007 No.350 [Subscribe]


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