Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 2 News List

CDC begins offering flu sufferers antiviral drugs

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In yet another effort to curb the annual flu pandemic, the Center for Disease Control today starting offering free antiviral drugs for flu patients above the age of 13.

The center plans to deliver 500,000 doses of the drugs nationwide, sufficient to treat about 50,000 patients. As the mercury will stay low for the next few days, the center is worried that the flu season will persist longer.

"As another cold front will arrive soon, there will be more people vulnerable to the respiratory disease," said Yan Jer-jea (顏哲傑), director of the Center's immunization division.

"Those who develop flu symptoms -- fever, headache, muscle ache, and extreme exhaustion -- are advised to go to a doctor within 48 hours. Those above the age of 13 are eligible to get free tablets of antiviral drugs if the doctor agrees to prescribe it," Yan said.

Since the anti-flu drug works only when the patient takes it within 48 hours from the onset of sickness, health officials urged patients to seek medical help promptly.

"Unlike the common cold, the flu can knock you off your feet with a sudden onset and then linger on for one or two weeks. In the case of the flu, early treatment is most efficacious," Yan added.

Starting today, 413 clinics and hospitals have made a deal witht the center to offer extra antiviral medicine to flu patients. The program will last until the end of May.

Although the center has provided flu shots for toddlers and seniors -- who have weaker immune systems than most adults -- and for health workers who get exposed to the flu virus, the vaccines proved inadequate to rein in the flu outbreak. Doctors keep reporting cases of severe flu complications to the center and the death toll is expected to climb higher.

"So far, we have at least 13 people suffering from serious flu complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. What is unusual is that we find that Influenza B is a bigger threat than before. For instance, two out of four flu deaths are attributable to Influenza B," said Hsieh Szu-min (謝思民), an infectious-disease specialist from National Taiwan University Hospital.

According to the health authority, the spread of Influenza B is because official vaccination programs have been targeting Influenza B's Shanghai virus strain, rather than the Hong Kong strain that is in circulation now.

"Since last September, we have identified more and more instances of the Hong Kong strain in the lab. The problem is that our vaccine against Influenza B targets the Shanghai strain, not the Hong Kong strain. This is why the vaccine's effectiveness is actually lower than we estimate," Yan said.

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