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Fed: Flu drug to be rationed in Australia

By Melissa Jenkins
05 May 2009 6:30 PM

CANBERRA, May 5 AAP - The supply of Tamiflu, used to treat potentially deadly swine flu, will be rationed in Australia after a rush on the anti-viral drug.

A total of 454 people have been tested for swine flu in Australia, with 430 cleared including an eight-month-old baby in Tasmania.

The other 24 - 19 in NSW, three in South Australia, one in Tasmania and one in Queensland - are awaiting results.

The federal government announced on Tuesday the temporary rationing of Tamiflu.

The supply of the other anti-viral drug, Relenza, will not be affected.

Tamiflu manufacturer Roche will supply the drug to hospitals for the treatment of confirmed cases of influenza, while GPs will have to contact the company directly.

Supply to pharmacies and wholesalers has temporarily been suspended.

About 10,000 Tamiflu courses are usually sold in an entire flu season for about $50 a script.

More than 120,000 courses have been sold in the past week, an increase federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says may have been partly caused by doctors' misprescribing.

Asked whether Tamiflu was being rationed by Roche, Ms Roxon replied: "Yes, essentially that's right".

"This will help tackle the issue that we fear some people are stockpiling individually these anti-virals when they have no symptoms," she told reporters in Canberra.

"A rush on these pills and capsules if you don't need them does put at risk treatments being available for people that do need them."

A Roche spokeswoman said the supply restrictions would only be in place for a few weeks.

"We have, in the last week, been sending out 20 times our normal amount," she told AAP.

"There is a healthy supply of Tamiflu out there with community pharmacists right now."

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has extended the shelf-life for Tamiflu capsules from five years to seven, when stored below 25 degrees.

The government will return about 2.6 million courses from the national stockpile that it purchased from Roche, which the company will now re-sell to the private market.

The stockpile, which contains 8.7 million courses of anti-viral medication, will then be replenished with new Tamiflu stocks.

TGA principal medical adviser Ruth Lopert said people who already had Tamiflu should abide by the existing expiry date, as it may not have been stored correctly.

She said manufacturers seeking approval to extend the shelf-life of a drug was a routine process.

The Roche spokeswoman would not disclose the price at which the government purchases the drug for its stockpile, as the agreement is confidential.

Eight Australians living overseas either have confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu.

Three Australians living in the United Kingdom have tested positive for swine flu.

Four Australians, three from Victoria and one from Queensland, have been quarantined as part of a group of 300 people in a Hong Kong hotel after a Mexican tourist staying there tested positive to swine flu.

They will remain in quarantine until Friday.

An Australian man in Miami was also quarantined on Sunday. He will remain in quarantine for five days in a hotel.

Twenty-six people have died from swine flu in Mexico, while another 776 people are infected.