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Avian Flu Media Blitz Prompts Surge in Antiviral Drug Sales

Finding suggests patients were creating personal stockpiles of antivirals

FRIDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- A surge in antiviral medication sales in New York City before the 2005-2006 flu season coincided with the start of media coverage of avian influenza (H5N1), according to a study published in the March 17 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The finding suggests that, despite recommendations by public health authorities, physicians were prescribing medication to patients to allow them to stockpile the drugs in the event of an avian flu pandemic, the authors say.

Oseltamivir, zanamivir, rimantadine and amantadine are approved for the treatment and prevention of influenza A or B, but high levels of resistance in circulating influenza A strains led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2005 to recommend that amantadine and rimantadine not be used to treat or prevent influenza A during the 2005-2006 flu season.

Despite this, during routine monitoring of sales of antiviral flu drugs funded by the Medicaid system, the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene noted a spike in antiviral medication sales in October 2005.

"A potential consequence of personal stockpiling is depletion of existing supplies of antivirals so that they will not be available to those persons who most need them," the authors note. "In addition, widespread personal stockpiling and inappropriate use of antivirals (e.g., as a daily regimen regardless of the degree of influenza risk) might compound the risk for influenza by creating conditions for the emergence of resistant strains of influenza."

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