HHS orders more antivirals for national stockpile

May 1, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Federal officials will acquire 13 million more courses of antiviral medication for the nation's Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and have begun sending 400,000 treatment courses to Mexico to help control the spread of the virus, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced yesterday.

HHS said in a press release that the purchase would cost about $251 million and is intended to replace the 11 million courses that it just sent to states and the shipment to Mexico, plus extra for other outbreak needs.

"As this flu virus outbreak expands across the country, we have been taking necessary steps to ensure states have the resources they need," Sebelius said in the statement. "The 13 million additional treatment courses that we will purchase will allow us to replenish our national stockpile and further ensure we are prepared to provide the American people with the treatments they may need to stay healthy."

Anne Schuchat, MD, interim deputy director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) science and public health program, said at a press briefing today, "We don't know if we'll need them [the extra antivirals], but we want to be ready."

The antiviral courses were sent to Mexico at the request of the Mexican government, she said. The amount sent to Mexico accounts for less than 1% of the SNS, HHS said.

In other developments, a research team from the University of Hong Kong today published a modeling study that suggests early use of a secondary antiviral medication at the local level during a pandemic might delay resistance to the primary drug. The findings appear in an early online edition of Public Library of Science Medicine (PLoS Medicine).

In the current swine influenza outbreak setting, the authors said the secondary drug would be zanamivir (Relenza), the only other drug besides oseltamivir (Tamiflu) that has shown to be effective against the new virus.

They also evaluated an early combination therapy strategy and calculated that it could also help delay antiviral resistance, but they reported it wasn't practical because the safety of zanamivir-oseltamivir therapy has not been established.

See also:

Apr 30 HHS press release

Apr 30 PLoS Medicine press release

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