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The Big Tamiflu Rip-off

By James Donahue

Remember the bird flu scare of 2005, when the people of China went on a massive killing of ducks after a few of the citizens became sick and died from a strange new H5N1 virus believed carried by the birds?

This triggered a wild-wide pandemic scare. At about that time the Swiss pharmaceutical company Rouche was introducing a new anti-influenza drug called Tamiflu to the world market. The drug, with the odd generic name Oseltamivir, was promoted as an "essential medicine" by the World Health Organization as an effective treatment against both the bird flu and seasonal influenza.

As the media hyped the threat of the H1N1 virus as a looming pandemic that some said could prove to be more deadly than the terrible 1918 pandemic that left thousands of people dead around the world, the rush was on to buy Tamiflu, even the price tag was high.

The United States and some 60 other world nations ordered massive quantities of the drug in preparation for mass immunizations. Rouche couldn’t manufacture Tamiflu fast enough to meet the world-wide demand.

Much to everybody’s relief the H1N1 bird flu virus never materialized. No more than 100 people came down with the disease and after that first scary winter, most folks forgot about the threat. A few news reports quoted so-called specialists who were warning that the disease was still evolving, that it was being carried around the world by migrating birds, and that the pandemic was still looming. But it never happened.

What a lot of people did not know in 2005 was that Tamiflu was a drug originally produced by a California biotech company named Gilead Sciences, headed by Donald Rumsfeld, who was serving in 2005 as Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. The Tamiflu brand was sold to Rouche, which pays a royalty to Gilead on every tablet sold. As a large shareholder in Gilead, Rumsfeld made a fortune on the Tamiflu sales. One report said he made more than $5 million in capital gains when he sold his shares in the firm.

Rumsfeld seemed to know exactly when to sell his interests in Tamiflu and get out of that con-game. As it turned out, there was no bird flu pandemic and the drug Tamiflu has since been found to be questionable as to its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of influenza.

A paper co-authored by Dr. Thomas Jefferson and Peter Doshi, published in the British Medical Journal, found that Tamiflu, at best, may only relieve the symptoms of influenza. In many cases there was no relief. The tests proved inconclusive since even without the drug treatment, many flu victims have only mild symptoms while others become very ill when struck by the same virus.

Tamiflu cannot be purchased on demand over the counter of the local drug store. To get a prescription, an influenza victim must first make an appointment with his doctor, be diagnosed as being in the early stages of influenza, and then a prescription written. Then the patient must go to a pharmacy to buy the medicine.

All of the above makes the use of Tamiflu somewhat useless, if not troublesome, since getting a prescription means exposing everyone in the doctor’s office and the pharmacy to the flu. Also, by the time a patient can be examined by a doctor and diagnosed as suffering from influenza, the disease will have nearly run its course. We all know that an attack of influenza usually comes on quickly, is followed by two or three days of severe illness before the symptoms ease.

The other negative side of Tamiflu: It is a highly costly drug and it has many serious side effects that sometimes include all of the symptoms of influenza. They include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, dizziness, headache, cough, insomnia and red eye. Other side effects include nosebleed, hives, swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat, skin rash, delirium, hallucinations and general confusion.

Even if you can get your hands on Tamiflu during the early onset of an influenza attack, the medicine might cause more severe symptoms than just going to the age-old remedy of drinking lots of water and going to bed until it’s over.