Government to stockpile drug amid flu fears

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Millions of doses of drugs to combat a future flu pandemic are to be stockpiled in the UK, the Government announced today.

The Health Secretary John Reid said 14.6 million doses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu would be purchased as part of the UK's preparedness plan for a flu outbreak that could kill more than 50,000 people.

The Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson also outlined plans to slow the progress of flu spreading, such as advising against travel, closing schools and cancelling major gatherings such as football matches and pop concerts.

But he said that producing a vaccine against the pandemic strain of flu would be a complex process and would not be possible until the strain had been identified in the event of an outbreak.

The ordinary winter flu vaccine would not be effective against a pandemic strain.

Anti-viral drugs are not a cure but can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and slow down the spread of the virus.

The cost of the 14.6 million doses of Tamiflu was said to be around £200 million.

Today's plan follows warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week that a new strain of bird flu could develop, meaning the virus could spread from human to human.

Avian flu spread from birds to humans has already killed 40 people in Asia since 2003.

If human-to-human transmission of a bird flu strain develops, experts believe a pandemic could spread rapidly across the world.

Today Dr Reid said: "We are working closely with other Governments and the WHO to ensure the international community is as well prepared as it can be to spot and address the early signs of a pandemic as quickly as possible.

"However, it makes sense to ensure that we in the UK are as prepared as we can be and have drugs for use against an influenza pandemic here.

"That is why I have ordered 14.6 million courses of Tamiflu for delivery over the next two financial years.

"This will enable us to treat one in four of the UK population, the proportion with the WHO recommends we plan for."

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