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Tamiflu to be made available over the counter

Published: 6:28PM Tuesday April 28, 2009 Source: ONE News

As 11 students wait to find out if they have swine flu, from Friday anti-viral drug Tamiflu will be available to New Zealanders over the counter.

The Ministry of Health says there are 11 probable cases of swine flu in New Zealand - the students from Rangitoto College - and they are also treating 56 other cases as suspected swine flu as a precaution.

"They're scattered around the country. At this stage we know only that they've presented with symptoms, we haven't tested them yet," says National Emergency co-ordinator Steve Brazier.

Results from the 10 of the potentially affected Rangitoto students are due back from the WHO lab in Melbourne, confirming if the swine flu is in New Zealand or not, on Tuesday evening.

Concerns about the flu outbreak have seen a 130% increase in calls to Healthline and demand for Tamiflu has been steady.

New Zealand has 1.2 million doses of the anti-viral drug which are being held in the Ministry of Health stockpile - that is enough for one third of the population. Those doses are in the hands of the district health board's and so far only a few dozen doses have been handed out free to those with symptoms.

Should swine flu be confirmed - and in the worst case scenario spread - priority for Tamiflu would go to frontline health workers and other essential services like police and Civil Defence.

Outside of those stocks presently a prescription is needed if people want to get Tamiflu, but from Friday it will be available over the counter. That is when the winter flu season officially starts.

People will need to satisfy the pharmacist they have flu symptoms and they will have to pay around $75 for a five day course. 

The MOH is also encouraging the public to line up for this season's winter flu jab in order to eliminate people with similar symptoms from further inquiry.

"If we increase our coverage of seasonal influenza that will probably also help clarify the situation a little anyway in dealing with potential cases of swine flu," says Director of Public Health Dr Mark Jacobs.

A tailor-made drug for swine flu is still six months away.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has contacted most passengers from flight NZ1 which the Rangitoto group was on-board.

There were a total of 356 passengers on flight NZ1 which arrived on Anzac morning in Auckland. Health officials confirm they have tracked down all but 18 passengers. They say finding those people has proved difficult because passenger forms had either incomplete details or were illegible.

Those passengers are now in self-imposed isolation as a precautionary measure.

Passengers on flight NZ5, which came in later on Saturday are no longer being tracked down, following the Northcote College students on that flight testing negative for influenza A.  

TVNZ will keep you up to date throughout the evening with the latest on the swine flu test results. Tonight, TVNZ 7 News and will have full details as they happen.