Last year Bush and his pack of weasels scared the living daylights out of you all by making an announcement that Bird Flu was on the way and you better get ready for it. Wadya know as soon as they starting chirping about that the sales of Tamiflu shot through the roof, leading to huge profits for its manufacturer, Roche. Well it must have been payback time for all of the money they got from the drug companies cuz that scare tactic was just about the stupidest thing I have ever heard, at least since the time W stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a bullhorn shouting "Mission Accomplished". I'd like to take that bullhorn away from him and shout in his ear "BIRD FLU DRUGS ARE A WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY, MR PRESIDENT BIRD BRAIN BUSH".
Chief Weasel in Charge of War Crimes Donald Rumsfeld personally made over a million dollars from the publicity through the stock he owns in the company that developed Tamiflu. Remember when, in response to the looting in Iraq a few years back, he said "Henny Penny the sky is falling!" Well he probably said "Don't worry, Henny, your bird flu shot will protect you."
Here's a little virology 101. Bird flu is transmitted from birds to birds, not birds to humans. Actual human infections are pretty rare. And when and if it does mutate into a virus that can be transmitted to humans, the vaccine probably won't work anymore. What about for the regular flu? Tamiflu (and Zanamivir) are neuraminidase inhibitors; they prevent replication of influenza A and B viruses by interfering with the production and release of virus from cells that line the respiratory tract. They both need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms to be useful. Although I say "useful" with tongue in cheek; if you get the flu, Tamiflu will reduce (pdf) the number of days you have symptoms from about seven to about five. Not a very big deal. And in terms of prevention, they cut your risk by about half. I don't want to take a drug all the time to prevent flu, do you? And if you take it after someone in your house gets sick, it's too late to prevent the flu. Side effects of both medications include swelling of the sinuses, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Patients with asthma or COPD may experience breathing problems.
Not only are drug companies trying get your money, gentle reader, it looks they want to drive you crazy as well. The Japanese drug regulatory agency has reported 64 cases of neuropsychiatric side effects, including "impaired consciousness, abnormal behaviors, hallucinations and other psychological and neurological symptoms" associated with Tamiflu, including two suicides. There have also been reports of seizures. A spokesperson for the manufacturer of Tamiflu, however, denied that there was any association (they always say that--do you ever wonder if they have real people making these comments, or just some virtual online being or avatar or something programmed to say "we see no evidence of an association")?
Hmmmm. Have to ponder on that one for a while. In the meantime I am going to go clean out my medicine cabinet.
Doug Bremner MD is author of Before You Take That Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad For Your Health: Risks and Side Effects You Won't Find on the Label of Commonly Prescribed Medications, Vitamins and Supplements.