Don't prescribe all swine flu victims Tamiflu, says WHO
HEALTHY patients who contract swine flu without suffering complications should not be prescribed Tamiflu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
The advice contradicts UK government policy which has seen hundreds of thousands of people prescribed the antiviral.
Yesterday, the WHO issued new guidance stating healthy people should recover from the virus quickly and there was no need for them to take Tamiflu or another drug, Relenza.
Meanwhile, it was revealed yesterday that the UK death toll from swine flu has risen following the announcement of the first deaths in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Health officials said a woman aged 55, from Caerphilly, died on Saturday after developing circulatory complications. The other woman, who died in hospital in Northern Ireland on Thursday, was said to have had an underlying health condition.
A total of 61 people have died with swine flu across the UK; five of the deaths were in Scotland.
The WHO advice follows a meeting of experts who said most patients experiencing typical flu symptoms would get better within a week. However, the WHO strongly recommended the drugs for pregnant women, people with underlying medical conditions and children under five, as they are at increased risk of more severe illness.
In Scotland, patients are prescribed Tamiflu by their GP. In England and Wales, many people collect it after a phone assessment by the National Pandemic Flu Service or by filling in an online questionnaire. Experts fear that the mass use of Tamiflu will encourage the virus to become resistant to the drug.
The WHO guidance states: "Healthy patients with uncomplicated illness need not be treated with antivirals. For patients who present with severe illness or whose condition begins to deteriorate, WHO recommends treatment with (Tamiflu] as soon as possible."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The decision whether or not to prescribe a drug for a patient is always a matter for the clinical judgment of the prescriber.
"The guidance details clear advice on who to treat. That includes those who appear to have (swine flu] and especially those who are at higher risk of suffering from complications."
A UK Department of Health spokesman claimed the WHO guidance did not contradict current UK government policy.
"We believe a safety-first approach of offering antivirals, when required, to everyone remains a sensible and responsible way forward," he said.
VIRUS HAS JUMPED TO BIRDS, SAY SCIENTISTS
SWINE flu has jumped to birds – a new development in the global epidemic – scientists said last night.
Chile's health ministry confirmed that turkeys caught the virus from people at two farms outside the city of Valparaiso.
Authorities ordered a complete quarantine yesterday and alerted the World Health Organisation.
Some illness was suspected at the farms owned by the Sopraval company after egg production dropped this month. Samples were taken and confirmed yesterday to be the same influenza virus now circulating in humans around the world – a mixture of human, pig and bird genes.
But a United Nations animal health expert said the infected turkeys have suffered only mild effects, lowering the potential danger – and agreed with the government that Chile's turkey meat remains safe to eat.
The virus has infected at least 12,000 people in Chile and is responsible for 128 confirmed deaths.
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