Friday, November 13, 2009

WHO Rushes Drugs to Nations Hit by 2009 H1N1

Via Pam Belluck of The New York Times - excerpts:

“Emergency supplies of antiviral drugs are being sent to Ukraine, Afghanistan and other countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where hospitals report that they are being overwhelmed by patients with swine flu, the World Health Organization said Thursday….

The new guidelines say that anyone with flu-like symptoms for three days, along with people in several high-risk groups — pregnant women, children under 2 and people with underlying respiratory problems — should not wait for laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis but should be treated right away with drugs like Tamiflu.

‘The pandemic virus can cause severe pneumonia even in healthy young people,’ Dr. [Nikki] Shindo [a medical officer with the organization’s global influenza program] said, adding that “the virus can take life within a week….’ ‘The window of opportunity is very narrow to reverse the progression of the disease,’ she said. ‘The medicine needs to be administered before the virus destroys the lungs.’

Although antiviral medications are most effective when used within 48 hours after symptoms start, Dr. Shindo said the drugs should be given even after that if a person is very sick.

Dr. Shindo said the guidelines, similar to those in use in the United States, had not been adopted sooner because the agency was not yet confident, as it is now, about the safety and efficacy of the antivirals, Tamiflu and Relenza. Doctors there were also worried about shortages.

The agency said the countries most affected were Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. The first four have already been sent supplies; the other two are to receive them soon.

‘Doctors involved in caring for very sick patients in intensive care units regretted that the patients arrived too late and even the most sophisticated medical procedures could not save their lives,’ she said. ‘We asked what could have been done differently to avoid the tragic outcomes. All of them answered, without exception, that things may have been very different if they had been treated with an antiviral drug earlier.’

Although Tamiflu had been stockpiled, protocol required doctors to prove a patient had H1N1 with laboratory testing before prescribing the medicine, said Nadezhda Rudnitskaya, the chief of pulmonology at Lviv Medical University.”

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