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Sun 17 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Report red flags pandemic preparations

Pharmaceutical solutions cannot be relied on to prevent an influenza pandemic, a US government report has concluded.

Pharmaceutical solutions cannot be relied on to prevent an influenza pandemic, a US government report has concluded.

The US-based Government Accountability Office (GAO) has confirmed what leading health agencies have stressed for years; that vaccines and drugs will not be enough to slow or prevent a pandemic of influenza.

The independent report, which was released by GAO, the investigational arm of congress, stated: "The use of antivirals and vaccines to forestall the onset of a pandemic would likely be constrained by their uncertain effectiveness and limited availability.

International bodies, such as the World Health Organisation, have noted that a global epidemic of influenza is inevitable, and potentially overdue.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is of particular concern. Governments have responded by stockpiling antiviral drugs, such as Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Tamiflu.

However, stocks of both are low, and potential vaccines would need to be formulated to reflect the precise influenza strain. Poor tracking systems in developing countries also means that outbreaks could go unnoticed, allowing the virus to spread.

"The delayed use of antivirals and the emergence of antiviral resistance in influenza strains could limit their effectiveness," the GAO report said. "Current antiviral production capacity is inadequate to reach the number of antivirals WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates will be needed to contain a pandemic.

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