The Health department are defending their Tamiflu strategy to protect Islanders from a flu pandemic after criticism in the national press, and have confirmed they are spending over £300,000 stockpiling even more of the drugs.
Jersey’s Medical Officer of Health says the nationals were given and have been running misleading information about a review into the effectiveness of Tamiflu and that Islanders should be grateful for it.
The department spent over £1 million in 2006 and early 2007 on the antivirals – enough to treat everyone in the Island and prevent the spread of Avian flu. And it was used in 2009 to contain the spread of flu during the H1N1 pandemic.
Dr Susan Turnbull said: “The people of Jersey have reason to be very grateful for Tamiflu: In the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic it played a major role in helping contain spread of the H1N1 virus to a minimum, until our supplies of pandemic-specific vaccine came on stream in October 2009.
“Thanks to its availability, we were able to move fairly swiftly from requiring people with suspected flu to remain isolated in their homes, to offering treatment with Tamiflu to the infected person and their close contacts, its main purpose being to help prevent spread of the infection.
Media reports that the drug doesn’t stop flu from spreading from person to person and that it only really helps reduce the risk of diarrhoea and cardiac arrests are incorrect according to Dr Turnbull who says the trials carried out only looked at the effectiveness of the drugs in treating seasonal flu and not pandemic flu.
She said: “We knew - from observing the UK experience, and from existing knowledge about how viruses propagate in a community, that if flu viruses take hold in schools then rapid spread to the rest of a community is inevitable.
“Thanks predominantly to Tamiflu, from the first appearance of H1N1 on the island in June 2009, we managed to effectively contain spread AND avoid major school closures until the pandemic specific vaccine became available in the October, when we were able to stop the virus in its tracks completely by vaccinating over 80% of our schoolchildren in a matter of days. “
“A review of the actions taken by Jersey in the 2009 pandemic was conducted by researchers from the European Centre for Disease Control. Their conclusion were that the combined actions of our public hygiene campaign 'Catch it, bin it, kill it', the effective use of antiviral medication (mainly Tamiflu) and of vaccine meant we prevented between 21,000 - 22,000 islanders from infection with flu.
“This is likely to have happened over a matter of weeks, would have overwhelmed very quickly our small general hospital and our few intensive care beds, and would have included ( according to the 0.6% death rate of H1N1 2009 ) over 100 deaths, which would be likely to have been predominantly teenagers and young adults (based on the main groups affected elsewhere by H1N1 2009).”
“Without antivirals - Tamiflu - this is likely to have happened sooner rather than later. We would never have held viral spread contained and at bay for months, whilst the new vaccine was being developed, without this effective antiviral medication to help halt the spread.”
The leftover drugs not used in 2009 expired and were thrown away towards the end of last year and the Health department stocked up this winter on 25,000 doses of the drug that will last until 2020.
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