With close to 10,000 new cases of influenza being reported per week over the past few weeks, the Department of Health (DOH) said it would soon allow for the expanded use of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, an official said yesterday.
Since Aug. 15, anyone testing positive for the swine flu virus using a preliminary test kit has received a course of Tamiflu treatment covered by National Health Insurance, said Kuo Hsu-sung (郭旭崧), director-general of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
While the kits are paid for by the CDC, Taiwan is facing a shortage, Kuo said.
Those who test negative for A(H1N1) virus but who have been diagnosed with flu and have experienced exacerbations or pneumonia can obtain a prescription for Tamiflu, but will have to pay for the drug, Kuo said, adding that these cases would also be covered by National Health Insurance in the near future.
Tamiflu should not be given to all patients with flu-like symptoms without undergoing screening because that could cause drug misuse and abuse, while about 30 percent of people who use Tamiflu experience harmful side effects that are actually worse than the symptoms caused by the virus, Kuo said.
At present, hospitals and medical centers equipped with both Tamiflu and quick-test kits are mostly larger facilities, requiring patients with flu-like symptoms attending smaller hospitals or clinics to be referred to bigger institutions for testing and treatment.
The preliminary test kits, which cost between NT$250 and NT$300 each, are in short supply because of insufficient production and high production costs, Kuo said. The department would coordinate with biomedical companies to speed up production of the test kits to meet an anticipated increase in demand during the peak of the seasonal flu period next month.