Back to top

Province cautions against over-use of Tamiflu as H1N1 spreads

EdNote: The following is a press release issued by the provincial government

As B.C. continues to experience increased pandemic H1N1 influenza activity, health officials are reiterating important messages regarding the use of antivirals to treat infection
from this novel virus.

"Over 9,000 prescriptions of antivirals were filled last week alone,  which is a 78-per-cent increase from the previous week," said Dr. Fawziah Marra, pharmacy director at the BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. "We want to remind British Columbians that if you have received a prescription for Tamiflu from your physician as part of your 'flu plan', then please do not fill the prescription unless you are experiencing moderate to severe influenza-like symptoms, or experiencing mild symptoms but have a high-risk condition. Tamiflu is intended for treatment and not prevention. It is important to follow your physician's instructions carefully to help reduce the risk of this virus becoming drug-resistant."

Last week, 38 influenza-like illness (ILI) outbreaks were reported in B.C. schools and, since September, over 99-per-cent of all respiratory samples testing positive for influenza at the Provincial Laboratories at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) were subtyped as pandemic H1N1 flu virus. These numbers confirm that pandemic H1N1 is by far the dominant circulating influenza strain in B.C. at this time.

"Earlier this month, B.C.'s stockpile of Tamiflu, an antiviral  medication used to treat pandemic H1N1 influenza, was made available  through community pharmacies," explained Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer. "This supply is to be accessed by patients only if they are experiencing moderate to severe influenza-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, and fatigue."

Tamiflu may also be used in patients with mild symptoms but who are at risk of developing complications, including pregnant women and new mothers who are less than a month postpartum; people with underlying health conditions, and especially those with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and morbid obesity; and children under five years of
age.

"Influenza activity in B.C. remains above the expected range for this time of year," said Dr. Kendall. "We have mechanisms in place to monitor and respond to outbreaks throughout the province, including early treatment through antiviral use in remote communities and for
those at higher risk of severe illness."

Tamiflu, the brand name for oseltamivir, is an antiviral medication that works by inhibiting an enzyme that the flu virus needs in order to spread through your body. Medical experts caution against widespread use of this medication as a number of cases of oseltamivir resistance have been seen within Canada and other countries, making it imperative that doctors not over-prescribe a critical medication that can be used
for treatment of influenza.

People can protect themselves the same way they can protect themselves against the seasonal flu, which includes getting vaccinated with the pandemic H1N1 flu shot, staying home when sick, proper hand washing and coughing into a sleeve or tissue.

For more information on the H1N1 flu virus visit www.gov.bc.ca/h1n1, or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, 24-hours -a-day/seven-days-a-week to speak to a nurse.