Goodbye Tamiflu


What is the meaning of this apple?  It is to keep the doctor away so he doesn’t give you useless flu medicine.

As I mentioned in January 2004, I remember scientific magazines trumpeting neuraminidase inhibitors as the end of influenza, more or less. And with the rise of the Bird Flu threat, governments in the rich world bought huge quantities of Tamiflu, the edible product. (Relenza is inhaled, which causes greater risk for side effects. In particular, it is not well suited for asthma patients, which are among those who need flu medicine the most.)

Last year, about 19% of flu cases in the USA were immune to Tamiflu. This season the number is close to 100%, and it is worldwide. Tamiflu simply has no effect anymore against ordinary flu. It may still protect us against the bird flu, which is a different strain. But we don’t know that, because the avian flu has not yet mutated to a form that spreads easily among humans. If it does, it will almost certainly be by combining genes with ordinary human flu. Which means it may or may not pick up the immunity to Tamiflu. There is no way to know until it comes, if it comes.

Here is one article, one of many. “Hundreds of thousands of flu patients continue to be treated with Tamiflu this season,” Roche replies in this Reuters article. Which is true enough. The sad part is for 98.5 % of them, a spoon of honey would have been just as effective and tasted a lot better. Sucks to be Roche, since this is a flagship product for them, and they have probably built large factories to supply the surge of demand from rich world governments stockpiling for the avian flu.

Influenza is already resistant to two older attempts at medication, but neuraminidase inhibitors were supposed to be the final solution. Work is still in progress for the next attempt to curb this implacable enemy of mankind. A generic antibody shows some promise, but is still years from reaching the market even if it works and is found to be safe. (Source: International Herald Tribune)

Vaccine is still the best way to prevent the flu, but at least here in Norway there is not nearly enough to create herd immunity. Only the elderly, the chronically sick, health workers and a few other crucial public servants are encouraged to get the vaccine. (It varies a bit from year to year – some years there is more and people are encouraged to come and buy the rest.)

So for the near future, we shall once again have to rely on washing hands and getting plenty of sleep. Not a bad idea anyway, I say. (At least until our meditation practice replaces sleep – more about that in 10-15 years perhaps…)