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PAC: NZ Tamiflu counter sales undermine containment

By Kevin Norquay of NZPA
30 Apr 2009 2:13 AM

WELLINGTON, April 30 NZPA - Allowing Tamiflu to be sold direct to people who present at a New Zealand pharmacy with flu symptoms undermines efforts to contain the illness, pharmacists say.

In the winter months, from Friday until late September, Tamiflu can be bought without prescription, if a pharmacist considers the person is sufficiently ill.

New Zealand is the only country where Tamiflu can be bought over the counter.

A Wellington pharmacist told NZPA there were industry concerns the process ran contrary to Ministry of Health advice on pandemic planning.

Under that advice, people who feared they had a serious illness were told to stay at home.

Pharmacists feared there was risk to public health, as an unwell person could spread the illness in their efforts to obtain Tamiflu.

Many of those working in the industry were concerned, she said.

"Every pharmacist I've spoken to says this is ridiculous," she said.

"It seems quite contradictory that we are trying to prevent the spread of the infection, and we have to have face-to-face consultations."

Four influenza A samples from Auckland students who returned from Mexico last Saturday were sent to Melbourne, where three tested positive for swine flu.

All those in the group were deemed to have contracted swine flu, which has killed more than 150 people in Mexico.

The Government yesterday took steps that make swine flu a notifiable disease, saying 14 cases of the strain had been confirmed in the Auckland area, while there are another 31 suspected cases throughout the country.

Annabel Young, chief executive of the Pharmacy Guild, said on Wednesday she expected pharmacists would be inundated with Tamiflu requests.

Tamiflu can not be sold for preventative use without a prescription. People who needed it for that purpose had to see a doctor.

Manufacturer Roche reiterated Tamiflu was not a vaccine against influenza but an antiviral medicine. It attacked the influenza virus and stopped it spreading further.