Limits on US distribution of Tamiflu lifted

Jan 25, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Roche announced yesterday it was again shipping its antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to all US markets, lifting restrictions imposed last fall because of concern about people hoarding the drug out of fear of a potential influenza pandemic.

The restrictions were lifted in response to reports of increasing flu outbreaks around the country and the recent revelation of a high rate of resistance to two older antiviral drugs used to treat flu, the company said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended on Jan 14 that clinicians not prescribe amantadine or rimantadine for the rest of this flu season because the dominant flu strains had become resistant to them.

"We are prepared to meet seasonal demand for Tamiflu, including any increase stemming from CDC's recent announcement," George Abercrombie, president and CEO of Hoffman-La Roche Inc, said in a news release. The company is Roche's US pharmaceuticals unit, based in Nutley, N.J.

Roche announced on Oct 26 the suspension of oseltamivir shipments to US pharmacies in order to prevent hoarding, which the company feared could lead to a shortage during the winter flu season. Officials said there had been a huge spike in demand.

On Jan 4 the company said it was resuming distribution of the drug to wholesalers in US cities hit by flu outbreaks, mainly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, and Kansas.

Yesterday the company said that flu activity had reached high levels in about half the country, according to data from its own flu surveillance network, called Flu STAR.

The CDC's latest report said that as of Jan 14 eight states had widespread flu cases and 14 states had regional flu activity.

Health officials believe that oseltamivir and zanamivir (Relenza) could be of some use if the H5N1 avian flu virus evolves into a pandemic virus. The United States and many other countries are stockpiling the two antivirals against the threat of a pandemic.

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