Health-e (Cape Town)

5 August 2009

South Africa: Swine Flu Drugs Not for Everyone

South African health care workers have been warned against over prescribing Tamiflu -one of the only antiviral drugs known to treat swine flu.

Addressing the annual SA Pharmacy Conference in Sun City, Dr Chuma Makunga of the National Institute of Communicable Disease said the SA government was no longer trying to contain the virus but was working towards ensuring that pandemic controls were in place.

She said the World Health Organisation had already identified four countries where some strains of the flu virus were resistant to Tamiflu.

Makunga said doctors and health care workers in the country had been sent protocols detailing how they should prescribe the drug. She told the group that "the drug is not to be given to everyone".

She said although doctors had been informed on how to prescribe the medicine "it was up to individual clinicians to read the information sent to them and ensure they know what they were doing."

Makunga said there was no simple solution to the pandemic and that it was still unknown how far it will mutate and what the consequences will be.

She said her unit was collecting enough information on the virus "so that we know as much as we can on the way it works."

At the conference it was again reiterated that pregnant women remain among the vulnerable groups while the elderly have shown immunity against the virus which might be linked to previous exposure to other forms of flu with similar strains. Most of the victims of swine flu have been younger than 49 years.

The National Department of Health has confirmed that since July the pandemic had spread to 159 countries with 146 609 confirmed cases and 1 096 deaths.

It has warned that any person with chronic heart disease or lung cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or pregnant women are at risk and should seek immediate health assistance should they have symptoms of the virus.

Students and scholars have also been urged to seek immediate medical assistance should they encounter symptoms of the virus and stay home until they are feeling better.

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